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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Paul McKeever: Reason vs. "self-ownership"

20080916ownedbyme"Self-ownership" is a difficult concept. There appears to be a conceptual imbroglio at the heart of it: Namely, how can the thing owned, and the thing owning, be one and the same?

Put differently (and in a way that German philosopher Immanuel Kant would approve of): How can the subject that owns, and the object owned, be the same thing? Seems a bit mysterious, don't you think?

Paul McKeever, a lawyer and leader of the Freedom Party of Canada, thinks there is something magical and, possibly, mystical about the concept of self-ownership. In his guest column, entitled "Reason vs. self-ownership," McKeever argues that upholding the concept of self-ownership requires us to, either consciously or subconsciously, to believe in mind-body dualism--the view that the mind and the body are two distinct things.

More than that, McKeever charges those libertarians and conservatives who believe that self-ownership somehow supports individual liberty with irrationality. In order to defend liberty, we need a rational philosophy, he argues, centred around reason, not on self-ownership, which counts as a "floating abstraction" (that's Ayn Rand's colourful addition to the philosophical lexicon).

An excerpt:

"In practice, most succinctly, “self-ownership” is a concept used by conservatives and libertarians who are afraid of being divisive on the issues that are most fundamentally at the base of freedom--the justification of freedom: metaphysical beliefs, epistemological beliefs, and ethical beliefs. They want to side-track all of those aspects of philosophy. All of the under-pinning of political philosophy they want to shunt to the side, and instead replace them with these floating abstractions like “self-ownership” (a concept actually borrowed not even from politics but from law: something subsequent to political philosophy). All in an effort not to have to deal with, or to try to deny, or to try to pretend, that reality, reason and ethics have no important role--are not indispensable--in justifying freedom."

McKeever has also put together this video, which summarizes his views in "Reason vs. self-ownership":

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on September 16, 2008 in Western Standard | Permalink


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"... in the rational person's lexicon the term 'self-ownership' shouldn't really exist. There should be a single world ... 'liberty'.

McKeever recognises the concept of self-ownership in a metaphysical way (i.e. purely of the mind and not empirical)(i.e. a concept transcendent of theory and practice in place and time)(i.e. not only can conservatives and libertarians use it, but also anyone from any political, economic or cultural, historical perspective).

However, McKeever's denial of self-ownership (or perhaps better the use of it) is derived from his political views. (i.e. for the concept of individual liberty to have any traction in society, self-ownership should be elided with and subsumed by the concept 'liberty'.

Two queries: 1. Does this not deny people the use of the concept of liberty in collectivist terms (i.e. families, communities, political organisations, think tanks etc. that exist because of agreed rules and relaxation of individual liberty.)?

2. Do libertarians not have a collectivist element inherent in their existence in that the ideas that have been developed over the generations in the name of personal liberty been constructed through their experiences and theories about these experiences? So why ignore it?

The metaphysical realm is a conduit of the mind to understand and explain similarities and differences between people(s). I would suggest that limiting the use of self-ownership in McKeever's mind blocks this conduit for purely personal political reasons ... a weakness in his political philosophy no?

Posted by: holographic | 2008-09-16 9:44:11 AM

"Self-ownership" is a metaphor that has gotten too big for its britches. The idea of the metaphor is to say that if I own a rock I am the sole authority of what happens to it, how it is used, and even whether or not it is destroyed. But this also describes who has authority over me as a person. *I* get to decide what happens to me, what things I do, and even get to decide to die if I want to. So my authority over what happens to me is just like ownership, so why not use that terminology?

Then libertarians who have a property fetish anyway decide that this should be treated as a real claim, not just a metaphorical one. And the idea becomes that I *must* be allowed to own property as an extension of my self in order to allow me to fully realize my capacities and desires. So the metaphor becomes real and then is turned around and used to justify the "fundamental" importance of exclusive property rights over objects.

But it's just a metaphor. If it were not, then slavery should be ok. After all, it is just the ownership of one person by another. So if I own myself, I should be allowed to sell myself to another person such that they now have exclusive control over me and I have no right to object to anything anymore so long as I was given whatever I had asked for in return. This is the logical conclusion of taking literally "self-ownership". But the idea that one person can own another is repugnant. So the idea that one can own oneself, taken literally, is nonsense.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-09-16 10:09:39 AM

Fact Check, we're sorry if you find the idea of personal property tiresome. So many self-appointed scholars seem to sneer at the concept these days. Seeking to protect one's self, one's family, and one's goods can hardly be called a "fetish."

A person owns himself in every sense of the word. No one else does, or can, own him. The definition of the first precludes the possibility of the second. So your example of a man selling himself into slavery is faulty logic.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-09-16 11:13:02 AM

He sure takes a long time to make a very simple point.

Posted by: Pete | 2008-09-16 11:33:21 AM

So the idea that one can own oneself, taken literally, is nonsense.

Posted by: Fact Check | 16-Sep-08 10:09:39 AM

Your kidding right?
The very first piece of property you own in your life is your own body. And you should have the right to defend it, correct?
Take that principle and multiply it with labor and material, you now have other items of property. Provided you have come by them rightfully and honestly, without the use of force or fraud...you do own them. The same as you own your self. And it follows that you should also be able to defend your property, no matter what form it takes.
Which when taken as moral and principled thinking, puts taxation in a whole different light doesn't it? You're being robbed of your property, your money and your labor. But that's ok right? Because its all for "the greater good"
(excuse me while I barf)

Posted by: JC | 2008-09-16 8:11:01 PM

The fact of slavery shows that it is possible to own a "self" -- at least someone else's self.

Now note that slaves are sometimes allowed to buy their freedom from the slave owner. Who, then, owns the "self" that used to be owned by the slave owner?

Could it be that when a slave buys his freedom, he owns himself? That his self-ownership has been restored?

Why is that "metaphorical"? We don't say that slave "ownership" is "just metaphorical."

Posted by: Grant Brown | 2008-09-17 1:00:37 AM

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