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August 14, 2010


S. Abbas Raza

Hello Terry,

You've won second place in our philosophy prize.

See here: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2010/09/the-winners-of-the-3-quarks-daily-2010-philosophy-prize.html

Please send me an email.



Omer Moussaffi

And justly so, if I may.
Just one little remark, if I may:
I heard John Searle make the nice remark about money that it is a social construct in the sense that money has value in as much as people assign value to it. It does not have value independent of people's beliefs. The same should also be true of property in general. Regardless of the "deepness" of the notion of property, an item is your property iff there is a social agreement that it is. That social agreement is essential to your ability to exert violence in case of infringement. What you show is how this social construct may shape itself out, and similar explanations will probably be needed to explain how it is extended to complex types of property. The notion of scarcity in particular seems to me to be very important. Thus, for example, indigenous north-American tribesmen, having an abundance of land, were surprised at the Europeans' need to divide it into properties. That in itself was a construct very much natural to the density of the European continent.


Thank you Omer.

I think David Mamet was shrewder than Searle when he observed "Everybody loves money. That's why they call it 'Money'".

I do think the Retributive Account of property explains why it is natural to regard ownership in primitive societies as matter of group rather than individual rights. When the solitary woodsman leaves his lean-to to go hunting, anyone may enter and help themselves to his hoard. But if he has left a family behind they are likely to put themselves in the way. History demonstrates that there is no easy way to displace whole populations-- however passive-- without actual violence to some of its members. Thus we find it congenial to say that the aboriginals own their land collectively even though no member of tribe has, or would think to make, an abiding claim to any particular piece of the territory.

Louise Gordon


What do you think of restorative justice versus retributive justice?





So if I understood you right, then there would still be nothing immoral about theft (of a possession) in and of itself. The only immoral action here would be in so far as it conflicted with your person. Taking the apple from your hand is immoral because I forced you to move your fingers in such a way x that was against your will, not because I stole your property.

Though the libertarian can still posit that the theft itself is immoral because, the apple was an extension of his person. I own property in my own person. I own my own labor. My labor is an extension of myself. I own that which, having been previously unowned, I have mixed my labor with (until I have in some way relinquished that right). This then becomes a part of me. I own myself just as much as the apple I took from the previously unowned apple tree. It in fact becomes a part of me, of my person. So regardless of whether or not I am currently "in possession of" or currently making physical contact with the T.V. 1000 miles away in my vacation home, if you stole that T.V. it would be equivalent in some way to chopping off my arm and keeping it for yourself. As vague as "mixing one's labor with" may be, that does not necessarily mean we should throw out the Lockean theory of property rights altogether. It could just mean we need to strengthen it. Am I wrong?

Is there a reason why you seem to find the harm principle preferable to the aggression principle? By denying you my apple I may be harming you, but I am certainly not initiating invasive force or violence against your person.

You argue that you have a right to the apple (even if I possess it) so long as you need it to live. I don't see how this could be the case. According to you, if I take that apple from you then I am interfering with your right to self-ownership. I have no right to your body, and thus, by extension I have no right to your apple. Say I need your liver to live. Say I need just your left arm. Do I have a right to either of these things? No. Why not? Because they are rightfully yours. I have no right to use force against you to take that which is not rightfully mine. You own yourself. I have no right to the property of your person. If forcing you to give me that apple or your liver (even if it would save my life) was legitimate, that would mean slavery too was legitimate. I inherently own some part of your person.

It seems you think private property rights extended farther than a mere possession cannot exist without the state. Is that the case? If no, care to explain your view any further? If yes, have you thought about the effectiveness of competing private security firms or private rights enforcement agencies?


Essentially what I was trying to get across in the first point is that, property is an extension of oneself. I take a piece of clay that was in the commons. I mix my labor with it and turn it into a statue. I say this is mine. This is my property. Regardless of whether or not I am currently in possession of it, it is mine. You have no right to it in the same vein that you have no right to my heart or my liver. Why? It is an extension of myself, my labor, my property. In taking it, you violate my right to self-ownership. I have a right to use force to defend it, take it back, or receive just compensation for it regardless of whether or not I am currently in possession of it. If you steal the fruits of my labor I am your slave. In this way, you are violating my right to self-ownership.


Tomkow, how are you understanding the idea that we are "owed compensation" in the state of nature? If someone coerces me in the state of nature to drop my apple, in what sense do they owe me compensation?


I understand the right to compensation as a retributive right.
So when I say they owe you compensation I mean that it would be morally permissible for you to force them to perform a compensating act.

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