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Self Ownership Demystified

The term self ownership is often bandied about as a seeming religious mantra, without much thought, but what do the words actually mean?

Self is clear enough, but what of ownership? In a state of nature, ownership is the prerogative of the stronger. Only in a context of law does the word ownership have meaning. Ownership is that control over property which is recognized and enforced by the collective body and might of a social group.

Ownership is always enforced by others, hence conditioned on their acceptance of and interest in the terms. Anything else is Might is Right, and the Devil take the hindmost.

If you have the might, you don't need the rights. If you have the 'rights' without the might, they do you no good. Your 'rights,' including any legal or actual ownership (there are no other categories), are what the rest of us agree to enforce.

You are dependent on the social welfare of collective force.

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Most of the objections have fallen into two categories.

1. "Ownership" is equivocated from its legal/actual sense to some abstract principle;
1a. The principle of sole mental will over one's body as the definition of ownership, regardless of the actual or legal situation (fish have sole will over their bodies, at least from the inside, and for most materialistic/naturalistic thinkers, freedom of will is illusory anyway.)
1b. Ownership in some sense synonymous with responsibility; to 'own' one's actions, own up, be responsible for, regardless of the actual or legal realities. These don't seem relevant to the point, whether people are responsible for their actions in the sense, or not, doesn't really undermine my point.

2. Ed took the lead in objecting that one's rights can simply be recognized by others, and so not dependent on one's own force or a collective aggregation of force. Well, I was talking about the other people who don't recognize your rights. For them you have your force or the collective force of others.

If I missed any other relevant points, please direct me to them.

Isnt ownership different from possession?

Without the right, control is merely possession. Doesnt ownership recognize rightful control? A thief may possess property he doesnt own.
We cant be alienated from our position of self-control (aka the phenomenological first hand point of view) except by death or disease (disease broadly defined includes trauma). Perhaps self-ownership is the decision acknowledge this fact is good and right. The basis of that decision can be an existential (materialist) decision or a religious revelation (god-given right).

Rightful control in whos opinion?

This goes back to objective moral values. If everyone gets their own opinion on whats right, and the only measure is enforcement, then you have 1) your force 2) collective force. So its rightful in the opinion of those who can enforce it, either you or a group.

Unless you are banking on supernatural intervention, those are the only sources of practical ownership. As for abstract definitions of what constitutes rightful ownership, every one is free to their own opinion. But to get your view enforced, you must depend on your own force or the social welfare of collective force.

Maybe Im wrong; maybe more might is more right

You have a point. It maybe that we just try and find common ground with each other when we negotiate rights so that we can have the largest possible collective force to protect them.

right of the strongest? pah.

You may not believe it but I believe in the (modified) Ayn Rand conjecture (Philosophy Who Needs it?): if your goal is to live and own property then there are only a few moralities that you can have. As your goals get more specific, moralities get further constrained.

Don't know what your point

Don't know what your point is. The pharaohs owned property, the Borgias owned property, the mafia owns property, Hitler owned property. Ayn Rand should have stuck to boring fiction.

RE: 1b

It wholly undermines your point self ownership is "often bandied about as a seeming religious mantra, without much thought." Libertarians do not bandy self ownership about as a plank of the religion of state to be determined by a collective.

According to your post, the collective body and might of a social group biggest gang is the only justified entity which can determine who has rights or obligations, what those rights or obligations are, and how they shall be enforced because anything else is might makes right, and the Devil take the hindmost.

Your implied definition of a right: Any rule governing property or human action recognized and enforced by the biggest gang in a given geographical territory.

What should we called the biggest gang:

Limited Biggest Gang?
Biggest Limited Gang?
Small Biggest Gang?
Republic Of Biggest Gangs?
United Biggest Gangs of America?
Biggest Gang With Separated Powers Distributed Among Itself To Keep Itself In Check?

That was a mighty wall of text

But I did not discern within it any other means, besides one's private force and money, or the social welfare of collective force, or the supernatural, for rights-defense.


United Nations Of Biggest Gangs?
One World Order Of Biggest Gangs?

You seem

out of ideas and foundering.

What will stop any of these biggest gangs from

engaging in biggest gang warfare? A bunch of biggest gangs all over the world will just lead to biggest gang rivalries. All of the biggest gangs will want to prove they are the baddest gang of all the biggest gangs. It will just be a biggest gang competition to see which biggest gang can accumulate the most destructive weapons. Biggest gang war sounds a lot more destructive and ... bigger ... than little gang war.

Isn't that what you're supposed to be

telling me?

Based On?

Is the burden of proof on he who asserts biggest gangs are best or the other way around since biggest gangs have determined indefinitely guilty until proven innocent?

What right do you have to question? Has your biggest gang endowed you with any rights for standing to question? If your biggest gang has not endowed you with any standing, what right and standing do you have to question me?

Present any written permission in your possession signed and sealed from officials of your biggest gang masters endowing you with any rights or standing to question.

You're far far off from the

You're far far off from the point, beyond all relevance. Focus on the content of the post plz.

Is this a devils advocate post?

It gets an upvote if its purpose is to stir discussion. Otherwise it misses the point. First-person perspective is the basis of self-ownership. No one else has first-person perspective from your body. That is your god-given, inalienable right. With first-person perspective you control your actions from the point of view of the will. Others can merely restrain you.

Its all semantics.

When you say self ownership all I hear is that we have autonomy over our actions as individual human beings...

In other words, we own our decisions. Autonomy and ownership of property are two different things.


Agree but more than semantics

Self-ownership is the same as autonomy. But what drove me crazy is the whole inalienable rights thing. If you trace it back far enough it goes to medieval philosophers and the notion that god has given you charge over your body. I think it was in the context of a meditation of what the state or king cannot alienate you from (if you are really interested Ill find the reference; it was a secondary source). Hence you have this inalienable status as the owner of your body.
In any case I think self-ownership is most clearly stated by saying only you (and no other) operate from a first person perspective over your own body. It is inalienable as no one else can displace you from that. Others can only control your limbs by restraint (or I suppose they can destroy your brain or otherwise disassociate your mind or a scary alternative in stories is demon possession; where your first person status is usurped ;P).
When the inalienable status of self-ownership is used as the basis of political rights, it establishes a strong moral justification for when force can be used and for when force should be withdrawn; it shapes political rights around respecting the self.

On this view

if scientists ever found a way to take first person control of your body, through technology, drugs or some combination, then you wouldn't own yourself anymore. You might think thats far fetched, but it isn't an impossibility. If it was done, would you really think your ethics was refuted? If so, your ethics are not very sound. If not, then you need to find some other basis for your belief in the objective rightness of self ownership that doesn't rely on mere first person perspective exclusivity.

maybe hidden in individualism

is a minimax rule for social participation; the best individualist theory is the one that gets the most collective support.

at the end of the day a book ethics helps no one.

So in that sense you are right. If someone is itching for a fight and disagrees about what they are entitled to then the only option is use force. I hate to think it but its possible part of the value of universalizable ethical theories is that they can be used to unite as many people as possible in exercises of collective force.

you don't need might if other people recognize your rights

I would say that at least 90% of the population thinks it's wrong to kill other people. They would retain these beliefs even if the collective force of your sacred government were to disappear. You would need to protect yourself from the violent minority if this were to happen, but it is disingenuous to say that rights are meaningless because a minority do not recognize them. That's like saying that English is useless because some people don't speak English.

“With laws shall our land be built up, but with lawlessness laid waste.”
-Njal Thorgeirsson

All who are...

...made in the image of God have been granted a free will, a personal nature, which by grace is given room to operate as its own, rather than being deterministically controlled. Being granted that ability to exercise our own will is what I'd call self-ownership. Perhaps self-stewardship would be more accurate, though. We receive this status from above, not from the collective around us.

I was going to include a

I was going to include a point about this objective/abstract sense of self ownership, since it is certainly valid, but realized it wasn't relevant. Even if everyone believed in God and objective rightness of self ownership, there would still only be one's force or collective force to impose such rules in practice. In order to get others to enforce your rights for you (social welfare of collective force), you in turn have to abide by the mutual conditions for the defensive pact. You aren't owed a defense any more than you are owed a living.

Moreover, perhaps 80% or more of those advocating the SOP are atheists anyway and have no way to ground such objective moral values about self ownership, in addition to no enforcement mechanism.


...external physical force is not the only thing to keep people in check from violating others -- there is also the internal spiritual force of Love, which can transform even the hardest of hearts and cause them to dethrone the demanding self, and become the humble servant of all.

If that spreads through a society, then you will have less and less of the need for the sword. And if it doesn't spread, you will have more and more need of the sword until the strife and chaos consumes even those with the best of intentions.

A defensive pact certainly has its place, but notice the difference:

a group of people demanding that everyone else give them something in order for them to give something (defense) in return...


a group of people voluntarily giving of themselves (defense) to everyone regardless of whether they are given anything in return.

If you and I were neighbors, Bill, I shouldn't hesitate to help defend you against a violent foe, if I was able, whether or not you had paid into my defensive scheme -- whether or not you and I had even spoken to each other before -- whether or not I had some grudge against you for some reason. Should I be forced to defend you? No. Should I voluntarily give of myself that way, out of Love? Yes.

there is also the internal

there is also the internal spiritual force of Love, which can transform even the hardest of hearts

I wasn't talking about them, I was talking about the ones who you couldn't transform with your Love. I know your Love is strong, I just have the wild suspicion that despite your Love, some people will still use violence, so I was talking about those millions of people.

The ones who are transformed by your love are covered, and not my concern.

I'm glad you are willing to abandon your family and die to come across town and protect my property rights from violent gangs, but, since I can't count on others to be so self sacrificial, I will stick with the social defense pact that deters such gang violence, since it will use overwhelming decisive force to destroy them.

Why would a...

...voluntary coordinated effort by a community to put out a fire or defend a neighbor necessarily be less effective than one established by mutual coercion?

It would be a pretty dismal, unloving town if I was the only one showing up to help. So much for the 'Good Samaritan'.

What you describe

is called government. In small rural communities with little crime and swift justice, you can probably get by with minimal occasion for coercion. I would guess in colonial America where small villages of less than 100 families, who were used to hardship, had very specific moral beliefs and norms, a close knit community, physical and moral courage, powerful social pressure apparatus, mutually dependent economically and for direct aide in emergencies, there was little or no need for coercive taxation. Probably a group would form spontaneously to search for a criminal and juries would voluntarily judge and execute sentence.

Coercion was perhaps limited to unusual emergencies such as rationing, defense from attack, epidemic, etc. But the principle of coercion was still recognized as valid, when necessary.

These same kinds of communities, as they grew far beyond the village size, and lost most of the qualities I described above, decided through the political process they inherited to have professional specializing police funded by taxes, and to do the same for a national military, and these have to be paid for by everyone receiving their benefits. Therefore, if you don't want to pay or receive their benefits, the door is always open to leave.


...that small village image you just painted was very refreshing to imagine. Maybe having lived in rural areas some of my life, in close-knit communities at times, with volunteer fire departments, etc., I have a bit of that idyllic lifestyle engrained in me, in my visions of voluntarist societies.

I think that while there are indeed unique challenges to a city environment, it could also exist and function well, voluntarily, without taxes or being state-run. (I'd recommend Michael Huemer's Problem of Political Authority book for a compelling discussion of all this.)

By the way, I'd like to also underscore that I have nowhere argued for 'no government'. I don't believe it is possible to have 'no government'. It's just that I (tentatively) think the government should be localized down to the individual landowner, without some coercive state body functioning at some higher level.

I won't belabor all this further here, since I don't want to obscure your original self-ownership focus of the thread.

I appreciate your prolific posting on all these interesting topics and questions, Bill. :)

Blessings to you...


Hahahaha..."abandon your family".....hahhaha..."..to destroy them." Baahaha

You freaking kill me man

"I'm Ron Paul." - Ron Paul

You Own Yourself

I argue that every person owns their own body and the actions produced by their body.

And we VALIDATE THIS when we "go after the owner of an action."

For example. BILL3 when you produce a comment or post here on the DP, I argue that, according to the principle of "self ownership," that the above post "belongs to BILL3."

So notice that YOU DIRECTLY REPLY TO THE OWNER OF each post. If you think sumpm1 is wrong, you imply "sumpm1 is the owner of this argument that I find to be in error. So I will address the owner of the error.

You don't just reply into a "collective" pool when you find an "owner" in error; and say "Hey the collective is the owner of this argument that is in error, so I will address the collective."

No, someone commits an error, you recognize that they OWN that error, and you ADDRESS THE OWNER of that error. So your behavior is in conflict with your above assertion.

And if John Doe rapes your wife or kills your child, YOU RECOGNIZE THAT John Doe IS THE OWNER of that action. And who do you go after? Some random citizen that belongs to the collective? Or SPECIFICALLY John Doe?

According to your above assertion, John Doe IS NOT THE OWNER of the rape, because THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SELF OWNERSHIP. And according to you, John's strangling hands don't belong to John. So on what basis would you seek compensation for the rape? And WHO would you seek compensation from?

And when John Doe insults you, and says "Hey BILL3, you look like a haggard lesbian in need of a haircut..." YOU RESPOND to John Doe specifically, no one else;! Because you recognize that John is the OWNER of that action, the insult. You don't scratch your head and say "Well John doesn't own his mouth, his mind, his brain, his vocal chords... Ownership is silly. So I won't respond at all."

So you are guilty of not accepting, not behaving in accordance with, your own premise.