From the Comments: Fallacies in the Threads

We don’t get as many trolls here as we used to, but every once in a while somebody will throw their garbage out the window as they drive by our humble consortium. Marvin’s comments in Dr Foldvary’s recent post on myths about libertarianism is a case in point. Attempting to take me to task for committing a logical fallacy, he  writes:

Brandon [quoting me]: “Dr Foldvary quit arguing with you because he has seen your fallacies over and over again throughout a long and distinguished career as an academic economist.”

Again, appealing to authority is not making a reasoned argument. You seem to be taking offense that anyone who would dare to disagree with or question anything he or you have said. Taking offense where none has been given is also rhetoric, not reason.

Just two things:

  1. An appeal to authority would have to involve me stating that Dr Foldvary is correct because he is an economist. I obviously made no such argument. I was merely trying to point out Marvin’s boorish manners and Fred’s subsequent, predictable reaction.
  2. I don’t see where I have “taken offense” in this thread. Marvin falsely charges me with doing so, and then goes on to suggest that I am angry because he disagrees with me. Now, Marvin would have a decent point if it were true that I was angry with his argument, but as it stands he is simply invoking his imagination in order to make his argument look better.

There is a reason Marvin has done this (I doubt it was a conscious one). He writes:

Brandon [again, quoting me]: “What exactly are you trying to refute, and which aspect of your argument refutes Dr Foldvary’s?”

First, it’s not Dr. Foldvary that I am having difficulty with. It is rather the unsubstantiated myths promoted by Libertarians generally that are the problem. For example, “In my judgment, when most people recognize natural moral law as the proper basis for governance, we will be able to have a truly free society.”

It is nothing but a rhetorical claim to say that my personal collection of moral laws are “natural”, “God given”, or “inherent”. Jefferson was speaking rhetorically (to sway emotional support) when he said “endowed by their Creator”. But when he said, “to secure these rights, governments are instituted” he was speaking of practical rights.

Can you spot the fallacy? I ask for an example of what Marvin is arguing against and he replies by changing the subject (from Fred’s argument to “Libertarians generally”). This particular fallacy is known as a red herring fallacy. In it, Marvin goes from ignoring Fred’s original argument to knocking down a “general” argument that he attributes to libertarians. How convenient!

Now, that’s two separate fallacies in one reply. Is it worth my time to respond? A fallacy is defined as being either a false or mistaken idea, or  as possessing a deceptive appearance. Marvin’s fallacies are a mixture of both, I think, and it would seem, based on his reasoning and on his dogmatic beliefs, that he is, in the words of alcoholics everywhere, fundamentally incapable of being honest with himself.

Nevertheless, I’d like to think that Marvin’s fallacies are based more on a false idea than on deception (I think the deception is largely for himself, anyway). So I’ll humor him one last time:

Brandon [quoting me]: “Being prohibited from killing another human being is not a restriction on freedom (same goes for stealing) because killing restricts the freedom of others.”

Actually, being prohibited from doing anything is a restriction upon the freedom of the person who wants to do that thing. The OD says, for example, freedom is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants”. Obviously if someone wants to steal and is prohibited from stealing, then his freedom is restricted.

You seem to have adopted a different definition, in which a rule against stealing is not really a restriction on freedom because it promotes the optimal freedom for everyone. I don’t think you’ll find that in the OD.

On the other hand, I do agree that all rules are intended to improve the total good and reduce the total harm for everyone. But to achieve that benefit, the rule diminishes the total liberty of everyone.

This is a much more sophisticated fallacy, but it is a fallacy nonetheless. Marvin is trying to discredit libertarianism by arguing that total freedom allows for individuals to steal and kill as they please. This is utterly false, and I’ll get to why in just a minute, but first I think it is important to highlight Marvin’s underlying logic behind this fallacy so that in the future we can all do a better job of rooting out dishonesty from our debates on liberty.

Marvin argues that total freedom must allow for killing and stealing, and only restrictions upon killing and stealing are able to prevent such occurrences from happening regularly. By framing the debate in this way, it then follows that restrictions upon other freedoms (ones that may come to be deemed harmful to society by some) are a logical and beneficial response to social problems. Do you follow? If not, you know where the ‘comments’ section is.

Marvin’s fallacious reasoning in this regard is on full display throughout the thread (please read it yourself).

Yet killing and stealing are not actions that can be found in total freedom (“the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants”). Killing and stealing are actions that can be found throughout the animal kingdom. Does this make animals free?

Of course not, and this is because freedom is a distinctly human notion. Rules and agreements do not diminish total liberty. There is the possibility that total liberty can be diminished by rules. Nobody disputes this. To suggest that (capital-L) “Libertarians generally” do dispute this is disingenuous. It’s also convenient for Marvin’s fallacy.

Total freedom will not be achieved in our lifetimes. It will not be achieved in our grandchildren’s lifetimes. This doesn’t mean it should not be held up as an ideal to aspire to. Ignoring or ceding the ideal of total freedom means that the Marvins of the world will continue to get their Social Security checks in the mail.

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39 thoughts on “From the Comments: Fallacies in the Threads

  1. I’ll jump to Marvin’s defense on your third point and argue that he’s making a semantic point (don’t be anti-semantic Brandon!). There’s freedom, then there’ Freedom. I’m an academic (as the world will soon know by my heavy-handed use of parenthetical statements) and so I love this sort of semantic BS (that’s a technical term, not a disparagement), but the definition of freedom is one I leave to the philosophers (autonomy, capacity, capability, liability… I’m sure there’s a bunch of relevant ideas here that I hope someone else will clarify for me). Splitting the idea into positive and negative freedoms helps clarify the issue (and is as far as I go because it’s were MB_{Rick}=MC_{Rick}), but I don’t think people are easily convinced by the libertarian argument that negative freedom is superior to positive freedom (even if they’ll buy that it’s more internally-consistent).

    All that’s to say (having not read the original comment thread) that I think Marvin might have just been confusing one conception of freedom (ability to do absolutely everything) with Smith’s “simple system of natural liberty” that the rest of us are implicitly talking about.

    • Hi Rick. I’m uncertain what you mean by “negative freedom”. And I’d certainly question how one distinguishes “natural” liberty from simple liberty.

      • Negative freedom is “freedom from” while positive freedom is “freedom to.”

        As for the “simple system of natural liberty,” you can think of that as a bit of jargon. Short hand for the broad goal of a peaceful, prosperous, free society. The “natural” term sort of throws me for a loop myself (it’s something for the philosophers), but I think the meaning is that it’s natural in the sense of fitting naturally with human nature and/or not requiring some outside enforcement.

        By any chance, Marvin, have you read *The Moon is a Harsh Mistress*?

      • Rick: “Negative freedom is “freedom from” while positive freedom is “freedom to.” ”

        Then I don’t think “negative freedom” plays a role here. The more correct language would be “separation from” or “protection from” rather than “freedom from” hunger, discomfort, etc.

        In the current discussion we’re talking about the freedom to do what you wish, whether you wish to murder, steal, or drive 80 mph in a 55 mph speed zone.

        Rick: “As for the “simple system of natural liberty,” you can think of that as a bit of jargon. Short hand for the broad goal of a peaceful, prosperous, free society.”

        Well I think everyone is for a “peaceful, prosperous, free society”.

        Rick: “The “natural” term sort of throws me for a loop myself (it’s something for the philosophers)…”

        I think the “philosophers” use “natural” the same way food advertisers do. It has a rhetorical weight, lending a sense of “goodness”, but has no relevant meaning in the context of rules and rights.

        Rick: “…but I think the meaning is that it’s natural in the sense of fitting naturally with human nature and/or not requiring some outside enforcement.”

        In a scenario where food and other necessities are in abundance, human nature will be more cooperative and sharing. In a scenario where nature no longer provides the essentials, human nature can be competitive and possibly deadly to maintain one’s own survival.

        People from such different scenarios, who meet under new circumstances, may need to negotiate to determine how they will live together.

        I believe that rule which some label “natural” are simply rules that have been in place for a long time and which they are accustomed to following.

      • Thanks. I order the book from Amazon. I like Heinleins short stories, but it’s been a while since I read one (didn’t he also write “Starship Troopers”? if so, then it is a big pendulum swing from the idealization of citizenship to an argument for anarchy!) I’m a big fan of Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. I’ve read that one several times. (mule: “Yes, now I see it”. psychologist: “And now you don’t.”)

    • Ah good points Rick.

      Part of my weakness stems from the fact that I broke Rule #1 for engaging in honest debate:

      If you are defending somebody else’s words – especially the words of a politician, a religious leader or even an intellectual, there is a good chance you are on the wrong side of truth.

      Also I am left wondering if bringing up a comparison with animals is not a reductio ad absurdum. On one level I don’t think this is the case, but on another level I am left wondering if perhaps I am not making matters worse.

      At any rate, my broader point was to show that Martin is not really interested in semantics (I love ‘em, by the way!). He’s just interested in knocking down men made of straw (have fun!).

  2. If I may ignore the personal attacks and return to the meat on the table…

    A person who wants revenge on someone who accidentally killed his brother would have more freedom if the rule against murder did not exist. I don’t see how it is possible to dispute this.

    Every rule that we agree to enact into law, whether it be against murder, stealing, or the 55 mph speed limit on the highway places a limit upon our liberty. We agree to these limits because we believe we will all be better off than if we did not have them.

    By all means, grab the handle at the top, and give it a spin.

    • There are no personal attacks in this piece. Please don’t try to play the victim card. If you think you are a victim, point out where by quoting me. Accusing me of personal attacks and then providing no proof is boorish (and libelous). You’re a grown man. Act like it.

      Marvin’s point is simple but that doesn’t make it logical. Indeed, his way of thinking is a major cause of the world’s problems today.

      The theft and murder argument is a common one. I like Marvin’s because it provides a useful example of how to debunk fallacious reasoning. I hope readers are paying attention. The straightforward approach has obviously not worked for Marvin, so I’m going to try a more nuanced approach.

      Marvin claims that rules against murder and theft necessarily limit liberty. I argue that this line of reasoning is deceitful and, quite frankly, morally repugnant.

      So for the sake of argument, suppose there is a society (“A”) with no rules prohibiting murder. Now suppose there is a neighboring society (“B”) with rules that do prohibit murder. Marvin’s straw man fallacy suggests that the society with no rules against murder is freer than the society with rules against murder. This seems straightforward, but is the society that doesn’t prohibit murder freer than the society that does prohibit murder?

      According to Marvin the answer has to be ‘yes’. Society A is freer than Society B.

      Is this logical?

      I would answer by asking what happens when a murder takes place. That is to say: Is murder in a society with no rules prohibiting it the same as murder in a society with rules that do prohibit it?

      If the answer to this question is ‘yes’ (and it seems to me that it is; crime was committed in one but not the other, and yet this does not negate the action of murder) then there is no actual limit on liberty. Indeed there cannot be a limit.

      Here is why: The society that has no prohibitions on murder (“A”) still has to mete out punishment for murder (unless it has prohibitions on punishments). No crime was committed in this society, but it does not follow that punishment will not be pursued.

      All either society can do in the case of murder is come to an agreement about how to mete out punishment (this explains why there are many different punishments for murder in many different societies).

      I think, upon further reflection, that the defining feature between rules that limit liberty and those that do not is arbitrariness. Rules and laws prohibiting people from driving 25 mph over the speed limit are a definite limit on liberty. Why the 55 mph speed limit? Where did this number come from?

      Marvin’s comment illustrates well this point:

      We agree to these limits because we believe we will all be better off than if we did not have them.

      Who is “we”? I can agree to prohibitions on murder and theft because those give me freedom from unwarranted aggression. Being forced to drive 55 mph on state-run highways gives me freedom from nothing. Indeed, such rules actually hinder my freedom. Who would punish me for going 25 mph over the speed limit, and why?

      Marvin’s argument is an old fallacy. As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, pretending that consent to a certain set of rules places limits on liberty is a deceitful way to justify power over others. Marvin’s Social Security check relies upon this type of reasoning. So, too, do the land-holding lords in Cote D’Ivoire and Nepal and the human butchers of ages past.

      • Brandon: “Please don’t try to play the victim card.”

        Don’t worry. I’m not.

        Brandon: “… but is the society that doesn’t prohibit murder freer than the society that does prohibit murder?”

        Yes. That is the obvious observation I am making. However, being freer is not being better off. But let’s continue to your actual argument.

        Brandon: “I would answer by asking what happens when a murder takes place. That is to say: Is murder in a society with no rules prohibiting it the same as murder in a society with rules that do prohibit it?”

        Yes. Obviously a murder that has already occurred is the same whether it is permitted in a society or prohibited.

        But when a society has reached a consensus to prohibit something, then the probability of that something occurring will be reduced. Those who accept the rule as beneficial will be less likely to commit a murder when they have the motive and opportunity. The smaller number who will not be constrained by the rule will have to be constrained by arrest.

        Brandon: “The society that has no prohibitions on murder (“A”) still has to mete out punishment for murder (unless it has prohibitions on punishments). No crime was committed in this society, but it does not follow that punishment will not be pursued.”

        Eh? If murder is permitted, then there is no punishment by the society, but only private punishment by the surviving relatives. An example might be the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys.

        Brandon: “All either society can do in the case of murder is come to an agreement about how to mete out punishment (this explains why there are many different punishments for murder in many different societies).”

        If the society has no prohibition against murder, then the society has no basis for punishment.

        But a society that has outlawed murder has agreed to respect and protect a right to life for all its members. To that end, police are hired to arrest, courts are established to try the case, jails are constructed to protect society from further murders by the offender. And, to that end, I call the cops and/or intervene directly to protect your life.

        Brandon: “Who is “we”?”

        “We” are the responsible adults who, by consensus, constituted the state and the nation to secure our rights. (See Jefferson, “and to secure these rights governments are instituted).

        It is the formal society which we are all members of by our own agreement.

        Brandon: “I can agree to prohibitions on murder and theft because those give me freedom from unwarranted aggression.”

        Right. You agree with the rest of us that these are in fact good rules.

        Brandon: “Being forced to drive 55 mph on state-run highways gives me freedom from nothing. Indeed, such rules actually hinder my freedom. Who would punish me for going 25 mph over the speed limit, and why?”

        The “who” would be all of us who agree with the law that driving 80 mph on a highway designed to safely accommodate 55 mph should not be allowed.

        The “why” is to protect ourselves from the unwarranted aggression of someone driving recklessly on the same highway with us.

        According to the original agreement between us, it is not necessary for everyone to agree on everything. We are bound by our agreement to respect the rule of laws passed according to the original contract (that is, by a democratically elected legislature).

      • Hi Marvin,

        I may have missed it, but where in your response do you address my argument that prohibitions on murder do not place a limit on liberty?

        You are very good at changing the subject, and at setting up straw men, but you are not so good at actually addressing my arguments (unless I missed it).

      • Brandon: “where in your response do you address my argument that prohibitions on murder do not place a limit on liberty?”

        See my initial response (02/23/2014 at 8:59 pm) on this new thread.
        If that does not answer your questions sufficiently, pleas let me know.

      • Oh that was your argument?

        Really quickly: Society A (the one with no rules prohibiting murder) does not have total liberty because its members do not have freedom from unwarranted aggression. If Society A did have total liberty then your argument would carry much more weight. As it stands, you’re just strawmanning libertarianism. The members of Society B, on the other hand, do have total liberty because their rules against murder support freedom from unwarranted aggression.

        Here is where your fallacy (and dogmatism) really shines:

        If the society has no prohibition against murder, then the society has no basis for punishment.

        This is simply not true. Suppose that a member of Society A murders somebody else. No crime has been committed, but it does not follow that there will be no punishment. (The fact that there will be punishment for the murder, despite it not being a crime, suggests that the demand for justice to account for the act of murder trumps the legal system that does nothing about murder, which in turn suggests that laws not based on consensus are no more likely to provide stability than unicorn poo, but I digress).

        Your attempt at distinguishing “private punishments” within Society A from “punishments of society” is also fallacious. Is society composed of numerous factions – most of them private – or is it a monolithic, dissent-free, homogeneous unit? This attempt to separate the private from the social shows an alarming amount of dishonesty, or at least disingenuousness.

        “We” indeed.

      • Brandon: “Society A (the one with no rules prohibiting murder) does not have total liberty because its members do not have freedom from unwarranted aggression.”

        (a) If a society has a consensus that murder should be punished then it effectively has a rule prohibiting murder whether the rule is explicitly written down or not. If a society has no agreement that murder is wrong then its sense of justice either presumes any murder is justified or is indifferent to it until it affects them personally.

        (b) The meaning of “liberty” is “freedom to”, not “freedom from”. “Freedom to” means you can pursue your happiness with minimal restrictions (“total freedom” would imply no restrictions at all, a liberty to do what you please without fear of punishment). Liberty has moral value because it is your freedom to secure your needs and pursue your desires for yourself. “Freedom from” is synonymous with “protection from” as in freedom from starvation and poverty, you know, the kind you get with Social Security. And if you wish to make (or endure) such an argument I’m all on board. When you speak of “freedom from unwarranted aggression” you are speaking of security, not liberty. This is why you’ll often hear that there is a trade-off between security and freedom/liberty.

        Brandon: “The fact that there will be punishment for the murder, despite it not being a crime, suggests that the demand for justice to account for the act of murder trumps the legal system that does nothing about murder…”

        Every institution, private and public, that is manned by humans, is subject to human failings and requires some vigilance to cope with human corruption and human errors. This will also be true of whatever system you propose to replace the current one.

        Brandon: “Your attempt at distinguishing “private punishments” within Society A from “punishments of society” is also fallacious. Is society composed of numerous factions – most of them private – or is it a monolithic, dissent-free, homogeneous unit.”

        A consensus is not monolithic. If everyone had to agree to everything then nothing would be possible. To make cooperation possible, we created a democratically elected government with many checks and balances. And we agreed to respect the authority of the laws it creates, even laws we may disagree with, because we would expect others to respect the laws that we do agree with that they don’t. And the democratic process may correct or remove an unsuccessful law in the future. I may win the case today and you may win the case tomorrow.

        Brandon: “This attempt to separate the private from the social shows an alarming amount of dishonesty, or at least disingenuousness.”

        The problem is that I have a better handle on the truth than you do. You have acquired a collection of mistaken ideas. But I believe you are sincerely wrong, and not disingenuous.

  3. We’re actually getting into some subtle anarchistic thought, and I’m agreeing with Marvin on a lot of points (not so much about democracy, or the possibility that any of us went back in time to consent to the constitution). Society B (the stateless one) still has rules that curtail allowable actions.

    But I have to go to bed. Let’s continue this in the future.

    • When you get up, look at the Preamble, where it says ” and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”. It is clear that the signers and ratifiers intended us to be parties to the contract as well.

      You can always unsign the contract by renouncing your citizenship, so the choice is in fact up to each person when they come of age.

      • I don’t find that terribly compelling, but that’s a whole can of worms I’m not interested in opening today. (In passing I’ll note that they could just as well have meant “and secure the Blessing of Liberty for our sweet asses”.)

        However, I agree that there is an informal “social understanding” of the rules, including the constitution (the meta-rules of government). When that social understanding is relatively unanimous and consistent, we don’t have political conflict over it (although if that understanding leads to unintended consequences we might have conflict about those). Effectively, this builds up into the informal institutions, the unwritten rules, that are enforced in a dispersed fashion (with frowns for minor infractions, and violence–handled by police in today’s context–for serious infractions). These informal institutions will always exist and are the underlying foundation of the formal institutions as codified and enforced by government (which could be different under alternative institutional settings). The totality of this system is governance; some (needlessly in some of our opinions) handled by government, but most handled in a decentralized and voluntary fashion… but not voluntary in the purest sense since each of us is born into a pre-existing context and can’t practically impose our will on everyone else.

        And from there, I agree with you that there are rules, even (perhaps especially) under anarchy that restrict our choice set (a nice jargon-y, value-free word… I’m not getting involved in a debate over the definition of liberty). These rules may enhance individual autonomy and welfare, or not. They may encourage peaceful coexistence, harmony, and community, or they may encourage discord and xenophobia. Rules are guides, with carrots and sticks, and they may be more or less bindings (e.g. absolutely prohibit some behaviors like wanton murder while merely frowning upon other behaviors like being rude).

        The classical liberal project is essentially one of understanding how rules come into being and change, how rules affect outcomes, and promoting those outcomes that involve peace, prosperity, individual autonomy and welfare, and social harmony.

      • Or they could have meant their children and their children’s children, as they explicitly said. :-)

        Rick: “The classical liberal project is essentially one of understanding how rules come into being and change, how rules affect outcomes, and promoting those outcomes that involve peace, prosperity, individual autonomy and welfare, and social harmony.”

        That is actually a good summary of the objective of all rule systems. Ethics serves moral intent. The goal of moral intent is the best good for everyone. The best good would certainly “involve peace, prosperity, individual autonomy and welfare, and social harmony” as you said.

        And that is the criteria by which every rule may be judged, whether it improves good and/or diminishes harm for everyone in general.

  4. Marvin, I see your point on the comparison between rules prohibiting potentially reckless behavior and deliberately harmful behavior, but these are still very different things.

    Regardless, freedom means property rights (although if we use your definition it also means no property rights) so there would be prohibitions on things like speeding, or not, depending on what property owners decide. People who don’t follow the rules can be forceably removed (self-defense) and prevented from coming back.

    To use the example of current state-funded, maintained, regulated, and enforced roads when discussing what a free society would look like seems strange to me, unless there are all sorts of qualifications being made. I don’t know if it was you or Brandon that first brought that all up (as I have yet to read the other thread), but I think that one or the other of you may be barking up the wrong tree.

    Personally, I speed every chance I get and I think cops are no better than criminals, but that is neither here nor there.

    • Henry: “Regardless, freedom means property rights (although if we use your definition it also means no property rights)…”

      I do understand that Libertarians attempt to derive a system of rights from the single right of property. In my opinion, that is both invalid and it also produces immoral results.

      First, a person must imagine himself to be property and to have “ownership” of himself before even discussing rights. And people are simply not property. Nor do any personal rights arise from ownership. All personal rights derive directly from the person, without the need or inconvenience of pretending to “own” oneself.

      Second, the Libertarian assertion that “mixing one’s labor” with something makes it yours would work just as well for the thief as for the farmer.

      Third, to claim that the restaurant owner has any right to exclude anyone based on their race or religion produces immoral results. No such rights may come from the ownership of a restaurant.

      Henry: “To use the example of current state-funded, maintained, regulated, and enforced roads when discussing what a free society would look like seems strange to me…”

      And yet that is the society we live in. So in what context do you want to discuss road speed limits? Would you prefer a system of private toll roads with many competing road developers? Would speed limits no longer be relevant then?

      • Well, I think property rights arise naturally, as a means of avoiding conflict. This has nothing to do with whether they are morally correct or not. If you have “total freedom”, regardless of whether you define it as “freedom from” or “freedom to” to the greatest extent possible for everyone, property rights are the outcome.

        I don’t know how you can proclaim anything to be immoral. What is your basis for this? I have a sense of morality, but it’s not arbitrarily grounded in what society says or whims.

        The question of ownership is a semantic one. It’s not so much that you own yourself, it’s simply that <no one else has a better claim to control your actions than you do. I don’t see how you could deny this without advocating, or at least allowing for, what amounts to slavery. If you don’t want to call this non-ownership of yourself by others, “self-owenrship”, that’s fine and I agree that is problematic.

        I don’t think labor-mixing is the origin of property rights, I think the desire to avoid conflict is. And I think recognizing better objective claims to things is the best means to that end. This certainly includes labor mixing, but it also includes such things as being able to defend one’s claim, and being recognized as the title-holder whether you are currently in possession or not. Sure, a thief “labors” and might even be granted title (for example, the government has been granted title to a portion of everyone’s income), but this creates more conflict rather than less. The only way to prop up such a system is by keeping its momentum going, getting more and more people in on the plunder.

        What’s immoral is forcing people to associate with people they don’t like on their own property, whether their reason for not liking them is “valid or not”.

        Here I thought we were starting from a totally free society and then experimenting with them. Brandon is saying that a totally free society would already prohibit murder, but not speeding. You are saying that a society that adds prohibitions on anything, including murder and speeding, is no longer totally free. I am saying that there would be speed limits even in a totally free society because roads would be owned, and whatever entity owns them would have the exclusive right to regulate them and ban violators. I never said speed limits were irrelevant. I did say, however, that focusing on a specific way (a state monopoly enforced with threat of violence) of implementing desirable regulations (such as speed limits) was barking up the wrong tree.

        Here’s an analogy: In a totally free society people you own (or other’s don’t own) yourself, so you have the right to prohibit others from harming and killing yourself. Whether you do this through personal self-defense or collective self-defense it’s all the same. Also in a totally free society things like roads would be owned, so if you owned a road you would have the right to prohibit others from damaging your property, and from harming or killing your customers.

        Absence of rules (your definition of being “totally free”) does not imply ownership, but the desire to avoid conflict and resolve disputes in the most peaceful and efficient way possible, necessarily leads to it.

      • Henry: “Well, I think property rights arise naturally, as a means of avoiding conflict. This has nothing to do with whether they are morally correct or not.”

        I define “morality” as the intent to achieve good, for others as well as for myself. Rights, and the rules that secure them, are judged by how it benefits or harms everyone. Having a way to peacefully resolve conflicts is likely to make things better for everyone. Therefore it is good.

        All rights, including property rights, arise from agreement. To avoid conflict, the rules of ownership must be agreed to by all parties. Within a state or nation, the rules of property ownership are written in law, and a judge can settle which of two claimants is the actual owner.

        If, on the other hand, the rules of ownership are privately defined, then the conflict between two claimants cannot be resolved.

        It is not so much the property right itself, but rather the prior agreement between the parties as to how their claims will be resolved that actually avoids conflict.

        Henry: “If you have “total freedom”, regardless of whether you define it as “freedom from” or “freedom to” to the greatest extent possible for everyone, property rights are the outcome.”

        I don’t believe that. Can you describe how you think that might actually happen?

        Henry: “This certainly includes labor mixing, but it also includes such things as being able to defend one’s claim, and being recognized as the title-holder whether you are currently in possession or not.”

        The ability to defend one’s claim is the difference between owning the property in fact versus “owning” it rhetorically.

        A key motivation to form a state or nation is to be able to defend one’s property and other rights against foreign invaders (the Vikings, Attila the Hun, etc.). The United States was constituted in part to throw off the rule of King George.

        So one function of government is to secure our right to our property, both against foreign invasion and against the thieves among us.

        Henry: “the government has been granted title to a portion of everyone’s income”

        It’s like rent. There are maintenance costs in protecting your property rights. There’s the national defense to prevent foreigners from taking it. And there are police, courts, judges, and jails to pay for to house the thief.

        Henry: “What’s immoral is forcing people to associate with people they don’t like on their own property, whether their reason for not liking them is “valid or not”.

        The ability to deny participation in commerce to a class of people based solely on their race, religion, or sexual orientation is a form of coercion that cannot be tolerated among citizens having equal rights.

        Henry: “there would be speed limits even in a totally free society because roads would be owned, and whatever entity owns them would have the exclusive right to regulate them and ban violators.”

        So, instead of one entity setting speed limits based upon a balance of safety and expediency, we would now have rules at the whim of private individuals with whom we have no influence? Wouldn’t there be less conflict with public roads?

        Henry: “In a totally free society people you own (or other’s don’t own) yourself, so you have the right to prohibit others from harming and killing yourself.”

        But you have the same problem as with property. To prevent the right to life from being only a rhetorical claim, you need to be able to defend it. If there are gangs on your street, you better have a bigger gang to help you remove them.

    • On defining liberty, freedom, and rights, it’s clear that everyone here is using different definitions. Somewhere (here, maybe?) I recently read a piece clarifying the difference. I believe they defined rights as something that is paired with an obligation (if I have a right to health care, you have an obligation to provide it to me), while (a) freedom (singular) is unbounded. I am free to think what I will, and I have a right to use my computer to write what I will.

      • Rick, I read something like that at Bleeding Heart Libertarians:

        Begin with some terms from political philosophy:

        A liberty right is something that grants me permission to do something.

        A claim right is something that entails others have obligations, responsibilities, or duties toward me.

        So, for instance, suppose you believe: “Everyone has the right to do whatever he pleases; no one has any duties to anyone else.” This sentence asserts that people have liberty rights to do anything, but have no claim rights at all.

        In contrast, take: “I have the right not to be taxed–the government shouldn’t take my money.” Here I assert a claim right to my money–I assert that government agents have duties not to take my money from me.

        So, to review, by definition:

        “X has a liberty right to do Y” means “It is morally permissible for X to Y.”

        “X has a claim right to do Y” means “Others have a duty not to interfere with X when he Ys.”

        You can have a liberty right without a claim right. So, for instance, Hobbes thinks in the state of nature we all have liberty rights to kill one another, but he doesn’t think we have claim rights not to be killed.

      • Nicely put. I’m guessing if there are “claim rights” then there must be additional categories of rights. For example, how would a “right to life” and “right to property” be classified?

      • That’s similar, but I don’t think it’s the same (I guess clarification of meaning of rights is in the air). I would add a further distinction between de facto and de jure rights as well as between legally recognized rights/obligations and moral rights/obligations.

      • My classification is “rhetorical rights” versus “practical rights”. When Jefferson spoke of being “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” he was speaking rhetorically. When Jefferson continued with “to secure these rights Governments are instituted” he was speaking of practical rights.

  5. Although, I suppose you and Brandon might only be talking about second best alternatives (to total freedom) in which case there very well might still be government roads, so…um…yeah….

  6. These comments are getting pretty difficult to follow. I propose throwing together debate (something fun!) between Marvin and Brandon. Maybe a post by each on some mutually agreeable topic (“Does total liberty allow murder?” or something like that… you two will have a better idea), followed by a rebuttal after a few days. I’d be glad to provide a piece afterward summarizing the debate.

    • I’m open to any topic in the Libertarian spectrum. The philosophy has limited utility and is rife with concepts that lead down immoral paths. We’ve touched on a number of them already: the nature of liberty, the source of rights and the rules that protect them, the rational limits of the non-aggression principle, the destruction of the principles of cooperation, why taxes cannot be called “theft”, etc. And I’ve given a lot of thought to the concepts of justice, morality, ethics, etc. (I was an Honor Court Chairman at Richmond Professional Institute).

      I don’t know that I’ve ever changed any Libertarian’s viewpoint. Most are heavily invested in their religiously held beliefs, and some will become defensive when confronted with reason (as you may have noticed here).

    • @Rick
      I think this is a wonderful idea. It would be invaluable for those of us struggling to learn about libertarianism.

Please keep it civil (unless it relates to Jacques)

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