Critique of Stefan Molyneux’s Argument Against Determinism

Causal determinism states that every material event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions within the framework of the laws of nature. Free will is broadly speaking the capacity to control one’s actions. The philosophical debate on free will is about whether or not causal determinism is compatible or incompatible with free will. Incompatabilism is the view that causal determinism and free will are incompatible and that since causal determinism is true, free will does not exist. I shall assume that when Molyneux refers to ‘determinism’ he is referring to ‘incompatabilism’. Given this let us turn to Molyneux’s main argument against determinism which I shall refer to as ‘the preferred states argument’.

To quote Molyneux’s most succinct statement of his argument against Determinism.

“A system without free will cannot have preferred states.

Determinists argue against free will.

Determinists propose preferred states. (determinism is true, free will is an illusion, truth is infinitely preferable to falsehood, etc. etc.)

Thus determinism fails.”

There are two problems with this argument. Firstly, premise (1) is false if we take Molyneux to be using ‘preferred states’ in the descriptive sense of so and so prefers x to y. This is because if incompatibilism is true descriptively people have preferred states but they do not have free choice over the states they prefer. For example I may have the mental state of preferring chocolate over bananas but I do not choose to prefer chocolate over bananas, rather I was determined to. This preference is analogous to the preferences of non-human animals who are usually thought to lack free will e.g. we may say that a lion prefers cat nip over celery even though the lion was determined to do so.

Secondly, the behaviour of individuals when arguing for incompatibilism seems to be of little relevance to the truth or falsity of incompatibilism. If John says to Joe ‘free will is an illusion’ either John has free will and so chose to say such sentences while if incompatibilism is true he was causally determined to utter these sentences. But him uttering these sentences has no bearing on which explanation is true. Either he chose or was determined. Likewise either he chose to act as if free will is true or he was determined to act as if free will is true. So it seems that Molyneux’s argument is just restating the problem of which explanation is correct. At worst Molyneux seems to believe that if one acts as if other individuals can freely choose to believe in something then it is not the case that one cannot freely choose anything. Which is false since how an individual acts and the implicit beliefs an individual acts on are distinct from what is actually the case e.g. a person can act as if God exists but that does not entail the existence of God, or one can act as if David Lewis’ theory of modal realism is true but that doesn’t suddenly make it the case that all possible worlds are as real as the world we are currently in.

It is because of these two problems that we should charitably re-interrupt Molyneux to be using ‘preferred states’ in a normative sense of ‘so and so ought to prefer x to y’ and take his argument to be an attempt at concluding that we should reject all arguments for incompatibilism and not the claim that incompatibilism is false. This results in the following formulation:

1. A deterministic universe lacking free will cannot contain objective normative statements of the form ‘so and so ought to prefer x to y’.
2. Incompatibilists argue against free will and in favour of a deterministic universe.
3. In arguing against free will incompatibilists propose preferred states e.g. you should believe in incompatibilism and so prefer the doctrine of incompatibilism to the doctrine of free will or you should prefer truth to falsity and so believe what is true.
4. Given 1-3 in order to argue for incompatibilism incompatibilists must act as if incompatibilism is false and free will is true.
5. An argument which in order to be made requires one to act as if the negation of the argument’s conclusion or premises are true is a self-detonating argument.
6. We should reject all self-detonating arguments.
7. Given 4-6 we should reject all arguments for incompatibilism.
8. If we should reject all arguments for incompatibilism then there is no reason to believe in incompatibilism, even though it may in fact be true.

The problem with this argument is that it is only convincing if we first assume that incompatibilism is false and free will true. If we accept premise (1) it follows that if incompatibilism is true there are no objective normative facts and if incompatibilism is false and free will is true then there are objective normative facts. But premises (6) and (7) are normative statements. For example (6) is the normative statement that we should prefer non-self-detonating arguments over self-detonating arguments. The premise is only objectively true if incompatibilism is false and free will is true. Yet (6) is a premise of an argument against incompatibilism and so in order for the argument’s premise to be objectively true, one must at least assume that incompatibilism is false. The argument therefore assumes that incompatibilism is false in order to conclude no arguments in favour of incompatibilism are convincing. Given that this is a mere assumption an incompatibilists can simply deny the assumption and so have no reason to draw Molyneux’s conclusion. In order for the argument to be convincing Molyneux must first offer a persuasive argument for the conclusion that incompatibilism is false and free will is true. But if Molyneux does this there would be little reason to make the ‘preferred states argument’ in the first place because we would have an argument for the far stronger conclusion that incompatibilism is false.

Molyneux could restate the argument as follows:

(6) self-detonating arguments are invalid
(7) invalid arguments are unconvincing
(8) Therefore all arguments in favour of incompatibilism are unconvincing

This is problematic because premise (6) is false since self-detonating arguments are not logically invalid. For example, the argument ‘all sentences of a language are meaningless’, ‘p is a sentence of a language’ therefore ‘p is meaningless’ is a self-detonating argument for Molyneux because in order to say that language is meaningless one must act as if language is meaningful. Despite this the argument is logically valid because the truth of the premises guarantee the truth of the conclusion.

A further reformulation may be:

(6) Self-detonating arguments are not convincing
(7) Therefore all arguments in favour of incompatibilism are unconvincing

However even if we accept this reformulation as unproblematic it at best follows that Molyneux has shown that any argument for incompatibilism which includes or relies upon normative preferred states is unconvincing. But his argument does not show us that all arguments for determinism which contain or rely upon only descriptive premises are unconvincing. Thus an incompatibilists can easily escape Molyneux’s conclusion by simply never stating or implying that other individuals ought to believe in incompatibilism. Rather they can simply state that incompatibilism is true in a purely descriptive sense and argue for it using only descriptive premises which do not rely on any normative premises.

Moreover, an incompatibilists could even include in their argument the statement of the fact that they hold a normative belief. For example the statement ‘I believe you should be a incompatibilists’ is merely the description of one’s mental states and so is not ruled out by incompatibilism being true if incompatibilism entails that there are no objective normative facts. All that follows is that I was determined to believe that you should be a incompatibilists. This is true even if I think that you ought objectively to be a incompatibilists since I am not stating that ‘you should objectively be a incompatibilists’, only that ‘I believe that objectively you should be a incompatibilists’. The latter is self-detonating since it requires one to act as if objective normative facts exist and so act as if incompatibilism is false, while the former is not self-detonating because it only requires one to act as if it is descriptively true that one has a certain belief.

To conclude, Molyneux’s ‘preferred states’ argument against incompatibilism is not convincing, despite several very charitable reinterpretations and never taking the notion of ‘self-detonating arguments’ to be problematic.

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Self Ownership Cannot Account For The Increased Freedom Of A Slave

For some anarcho-capitalists freedom is defined as being a full self-owner such that one is free in so far as one’s self-ownership is not being violated and are made unfree in so far as one’s self-ownership is being violated. Self-ownership is violated when one is coerced. Coercion is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else.

One problem with this approach to freedom is that it cannot account for increased freedom of a slave. Historically slaves lacked the right to issue complaints about their master in court but this right was granted under the Emperor Nero because of the advice of Seneca. Possessing the right to file civil complaints against their master increased their freedom in so far as an action that was previously not available to them became available. This increase in freedom cannot be explained in terms of the fact that they would no longer be prevented via coercion from complaining in court because there is a crucial difference between being prevented from breaking into a court room in order to complain about one’s master and being able to go through formal legal procedure against one’s master. The latter cannot be reduced to the absence of the former as it is not a wholly negative right but is a positive right. That is the slave is now free to do something and not just free from having something done to them.

Furthermore, the possession of this positive liberty in turn increase their power, where power is one’s capacity to get what one wants, since they now have the power to have their master legally disciplined for cruelty. This increase in power in turn increase their freedom from external constraints because while the obstacle of being owned and so being likely to suffer abuse from their master remains, their increase in power renders this obstacle less worrying. This is because if their master were to abuse them then they would have the power to discipline their master and given that the master would be aware of this fact, they the master would in turn be less likely to abuse their slave for fear of punishment. The right to complain before a court thus is both a positive right and so an instance of positive liberty and a right which in turn expands their negative liberty from external constraints. But a self-ownership view of liberty cannot even capture this because the increase in liberty is as a result of increase of one’s powers and not because of a fundamentally change in whether or not one’s self-ownership is being violated, after all the slave is still a slave.

From this argument we can infer that since the slaves freedom is clearly increased by having the right to issue legal complaints against their master and that self-ownership cannot account for this increase in freedom, it follows that self-ownership is an inadequate theory of freedom.

Do You Control Your Body? – A Response

One of the first things many anarcho-capitalists and right-libertarians say when they come across people who claim not to own themselves is to ask questions like ‘do you control your body?’ In doing so they seem to believe that if you answer yes then you believe in self-ownership and that if you answer no then you do not believe in self-ownership and so believe that people should be free to do whatever they want to others, such as murdering or raping. The idea being that any sensible person will accept self-ownership since they don’t want their beliefs to entail that immoral actions are permissible. Both of these claims are false.

Before I explain why I must first define self-ownership. Rothbard defines self-ownership most clearly as “the absolute right of each man, by virtue of his (or her) being a human being, to “own” his or her own body; that is, to control that body free of coercive interference.” For Rothbard “man has rights because they are natural rights.” A natural right is a right that an individual possesses irrespective of the right being enforced, recognised or there even being any mechanism of right enforcement. Thus to say that a person owns themselves is to say that they possess a natural right to exclusively control and hence own their body as property and in virtue of this ownership have a right to be free from coercion.

I shall now explain why both claims are false. The first claim is false because control and just ownership are distinct things. For example, the fact that a thief controls a bicycle does not negate the fact that someone else owns the bike. This is because ownership is not determined exclusively by control but also by individuals having the normative right to control. In the case of the thief, she cannot claim to own the bike not because she does not control the bike but because she lacks the normative right to do so. It is therefore not sufficient in an argument for ownership to merely point to the fact that a particular individual controls their body. One must offer arguments for why people ought to control their body and specifically for advocates of self-ownership, why people possess the natural right to control their body. Another reason why it does not follow from the fact that people do control their bodies that they ought to control their bodies is that to make this claim is to invalidly infer an ought from an is. Thus, one can quite consistently claim that one controls their body while nonetheless believing that they don’t possess a right to exclusively use and control it.

From this it follows that if by self-ownership we mean being able to control one’s body then self-ownership can no longer be used to argue for anarcho-capitalism and right-libertarianism. This is because a conservative could easily concede that people control their bodies while nonetheless insisting that the state ought to prevent people from engaging in homosexual acts, or a social democratic could concede that people control their bodies while arguing that private companies ought to be regulated by the state. It is because of this that anarcho-capitalists and right-libertarians must make sure to not conflate the ‘is’ of bodily control with the ‘ought’ of self-ownership.

The second claim is false for two reasons. The first reason is that it does not follow from the fact that people do not possess free will that people are morally insignificant and that there are no reasons not to interfere with other people. I shall demonstrate this with an analogy. It is arguable the case that sheep do not possess free will, but it does not follow from this alone that there are no reasons why people ought not to harm sheep. Since even though the sheep does not possess free will it can still suffer and this fact gives us reason to believe that sheep are morally significant in a way that a non living object such as a sock isn’t. Likewise, humans remain morally significant even if they do not possess free will, as they can still suffer and have their preferences violated. Given the moral significance of people, one could argue that people ought not to be interfered with, providing that they do not coerce others, because this has good consequences, such as people not suffering as a result of being coerced. The second reason is that that there is no contradiction between rejecting free will and accepting a very similar claim to self-ownership. One can argue that while it is true that people do not control their bodies people nonetheless possess a natural right to not be coerced because such a natural right does not rest on the truth of free will. Therefore, one can argue from a natural rights perspective and from a consequentialist perspective that people ought not to interfere with one another even if it is not the case that they freely control their bodies.

In summary, asking the question ‘do you control your body?’ is not an effective means of arguing for self-ownership because the answer yes entails control not self-ownership and the answer no does not entail that people should be free to do whatever they want.

A Critique of Rothbard’s Arguments For The Natural Right to Self-Ownership

In this essay I shall begin by outlining self-ownership and then Rothbard’s version of self-ownership specifically. I shall proceed to assess whether or not Rothbard’s arguments for the natural right to self-ownership are convincing and conclude that they are not. I do not intend to show in this essay that i) self-ownership is a false position and that  ii) Rothbard’s arguments for the natural right to self-ownership cannot be used to show that self-ownership as a legal right ought to be enforced. I shall consider these points in the future.

Defining Self-Ownership

The term self-ownership tends to be used in three distinct ways yet for some reason they are often conflated as the same thing, when they are not.

1) Bodily Control : x controls their body
2) Non-Propertarian Self-Ownership: x has the moral right to exclusively use and control their body
3) Propertarian Self-Ownership: x has the moral right to exclusively use and control their body in virtue of the fact that they own their body as property.

I only consider propertarian self-ownership to in fact be a form of self-ownership. I do not consider bodily control to be a form of self-ownership because self-ownership is used in right-libertarian theory as a normative claim about what rights individuals have to do or not do certain things, it is not a descriptive claim about the fact that it is the case that people control their bodies. People controlling their bodies may be a premise in a sound argument for self-ownership and so be a necessary condition of self-ownership but it is not itself a form of self-ownership. To avoid complications in this essay I shall assume that people do consciously control their bodies. While I do not consider non-propertarian self-ownership to in fact be a form of self-ownership because ‘self-ownership’ contains the word ‘ownership’ and so implies a property relation and since it is non-propertarian it contains no such relation and so cannot be properly called a form of self-ownership. I shall instead call this bodily sovereignty. The fact that many anarcho-capitalists and right-libertarians use self-ownership to refer to both bodily control and bodily sovereignty only shows either their lack of reading on the subject or their inability to understand what they are reading. Having restricted self-ownership to the position that ‘ x has the moral right to exclusively use and control their body in virtue of the fact that they own their body as property’ I shall now outline Rothbard’s particular version of this position.

Rothbard’s Definition of Self-Ownership

Rothbard defines self-ownership most clearly as “the absolute right of each man, by virtue of his (or her) being a human being, to “own” his or her own body; that is, to control that body free of coercive interference.” [1] Therefore, for Rothbard to own something is to control it. This interpretation is supported by Rothbard’s statements elsewhere, such as his claim that when an individual man “discovers the natural fact of his mind’s command over his body and its actions” he discovers “his natural ownership over his self.” [2] While the right-libertarian scholar David Gordon writes that by “ownership Rothbard means control” [3]. It would however be an error to infer from this that Rothbard is not an advocate of propertarian self-ownership but instead merely believes in bodily sovereignty. This is because in Chapter 1 of ‘The Ethics of Liberty’, he writes “[w]e shall be speaking throughout this work of “rights,” in particular the rights of individuals to property in their persons and in material objects.” [4]

But what exactly does Rothbard mean by a ‘right’? ‘In the ‘Ethics of Liberty’ Rothbard uses the definition of a right by James Sadowsky:

“When we say that one has the right to do certain things we mean this and only this, that it would be immoral for another, alone or in combination, to stop him from doing this by the use of physical force or the threat thereof. We do not mean that any use a man makes of his property within the limits set forth is necessarily a moral use” [5]

Moreover, Rothbard is an advocate of natural rights. ‘In the Ethics of Liberty’ he writes, “man has rights because they are natural rights.” [6] The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy defines a natural right as “[r]ights which belong to us simply because of our humanity and not because of any special legal, political, or social institutions.” [7] A natural right is therefore a right that an individual possesses irrespective of the right being enforced, recognised or there even being any mechanism of right enforcement.

To summarise Rothbard’s views, to say that a person owns themselves is to say that they possess a natural right to exclusively control and hence own their body as property and in virtue of this ownership have a right to be free from coercion.

Rothbard’s Arguments For Self-Ownership

I shall begin with Rothbards argument for self-ownership in chapter 2 of the ‘Ethics of Liberty’. His starting point is Crusoe alone on an Island with amnesia. Rothbard uses this scenario as a tool with which to explore what inescapable natural facts confront people as they begin to experience the world. After discerning certain basic inescapable natural facts, Crusoe introspects about his own consciousness and discovers his free will, that is to say “his freedom to choose, his freedom to use or not use his reason about any given subject”. He then also discovers “the natural fact of his mind’s command over his body and its actions: that is, of his natural ownership over his self.”[8] Here Rothbard appears to be arguing that in exercising control over his body Crusoe establishes his ownership of his body. This interpretation is supported by the fact that later Rothbard argues that if Crusoe mixes his labour with unclaimed land he transforms the land, that is to say he exercises control over the land, and thereby owns the land. Thus for Rothbard control of unclaimed objects entails ownership of said objects.

The error of Rothbard’s argument is that he asserts the truth of bodily control as if it were an argument for the right to self-ownership. The mere fact that a person does exercise control over something does not establish the normative proposition that they ought to exercise control over it let alone that they possess a natural right to own it. For example, the fact that a thief controls a bicycle does not negate the fact that someone else owns the bike. This is because ownership is not determined exclusively by control but also by individuals having the normative right to control. In the case of the thief, she cannot claim to own the bike not because she does not control the bike but because she lacks the normative right to do so. It is therefore not sufficient in an argument for ownership to merely point to the fact that a particular individual controls their body or exercises control over a piece of land. Rather, one must argue that either, said individual ought to possess the legal or customary right to own their body or the piece of land, or that they possess the natural right to do so. Rothbard has failed to do this, therefore his defence of self-ownership in chapter 2 of ‘The Ethics of Liberty’ is unconvincing.

Rothbard’s second argument is that humans possess the natural right to self-ownership because it ensures that individuals are free to perform specifically human actions. In ‘For A New Liberty’ Rothbard begins this argument by writing that,

“the nature of man is such that each individual person must, in order to act, choose his own ends and employ his own means in order to attain them. Possessing no automatic instincts, each man must learn about himself and the world, use his mind to select values, learn about cause and effect, and act purposively to maintain himself and advance his life. Since men can think, feel, evaluate, and act only as individuals, it becomes vitally necessary for each man’s survival and prosperity that he be free to learn, choose, develop his faculties, and act upon his knowledge and values. This is the necessary path of human nature; to interfere with and cripple this process by using violence goes profoundly against what is necessary by man’s nature for his life and prosperity. Violent interference with a man’s learning and choices is therefore profoundly “antihuman”; it violates the natural law of man’s needs.” [9]

He writes shortly later that,

“[s]ince each individual must think, learn, value, and choose his or her ends and means in order to survive and flourish, the right to self-ownership gives man the right to perform these vital activities without being hampered and restricted by coercive molestation.” [10]

The problem with this argument is that Rothbard is not here arguing for the natural right to self-ownership. All his argument claims is that were humans to have the natural right to self-ownership then they would be free to perform certain actions and that this is a good thing because to stop people from performing these actions is ‘antihuman’. But this argument is not sufficient to demonstrate the natural right to self-ownership because it does not follow from the fact that the natural right to self-ownership is a means to certain desired ends that people do in fact possess this natural right. Just as it does not follow that people possess super human strength from the fact that were people to possess super human strength they would be free to perform new actions, such as lifting airplanes with their hands, and that being free to do so would be good. Moreover, one need not hold that the possession of a natural right is the only means to these desired ends.  One could argue that people ought to have the legal right to self-ownership because were people to have this legal right they would be free in certain respects, and this freedom would have good consequences, while people lacking this freedom would have bad consequences. Thus, Rothbard’s argument at best demonstrates that the right to self-ownership ought to be enforced because its social enforcement is a prerequisite to people having “the right to perform these vital activities without being “hampered and restricted by coercive molestation”. But it in no way shows that people do in fact possess the natural right to self-ownership.

Rothbard’s third argument is that out of the logically possible forms of ownership, self-ownership is the most persuasive [11]. He claims that either people fully own themselves or they do not. If they do not fully own themselves then there are only two other logical alternatives; either everybody owns each other or some group or person owns themselves and everybody else. The possible positions to take on the issue of self-ownership are therefore:

(i) libertarian self-ownership: each person is a full self-owner of their body.
(ii) Communist ownership: no person is a full self-owner of their body and each person has an equal part of the ownership of everyone’s body. Concretely this means that “an equal part of the ownership of A’s body should be vested in B, C . . ., and the same should hold true for each of the others”.
(iii) Class Rule Ownership: “one person or group of persons are entitled to own not only themselves but also the remainder of society”.

Rothbard rejects (iii) because it is not a universal ethical rule that applies to all humans because it requires that those who are owned are “subhuman beings who do not have a right to participate as full humans in the rights of self-ownership enjoyed by” their owners. He rejects (ii) because it is “physically impossible for everyone to keep continual tabs on everyone else, and thereby to exercise his equal share of partial ownership over every other man.” Even if it were not impossible it is “absurd to hold that no man is entitled to own himself, and yet to hold that each of these very men is entitled to own a part of all other men! “. He argues that a society organised on this principle would perish because people would not be free to act and so survive and that it would not be a desirable society because people would not wish to live in a society where they were not free “to take any action whatsoever without prior approval by everyone else in society”. Given that (ii) and (iii) have been rejected, and the only other logical alternative on the question of self-ownership is (1), (1) must be true.

This main problem with this argument is that the three options he lists are not the only logical alternatives. Perhaps the most obvious alternative for those who reject self-ownership is that individuals do not own themselves or anybody else. Yet Rothbard did not consider or respond to this alternative in either ‘For A New Liberty’ or his essay ‘Justice and Property Rights’ [12] where he repeats the above argument. Rothbard finally responded to the alternative nine years later in a footnote in ‘The Ethics of Liberty’. He writes, “since ownership signifies range of control, this would mean that no one would be able to do anything, and the human race would quickly vanish” [13]. This argument is however not convincing. Rothbard makes the same error here that he does in chapter 2 of ‘The Ethics of Liberty’. He confuses control with ownership. Rothbard fails to realise during his discussion of self-ownership that while ownership implies control, control does not necessarily imply ownership. Thus, individuals may not own themselves but nonetheless control themselves. Given that this is the case, were people to not own themselves they would still have the capacity to control their body in the manner required for survival and so would not die out. One could even argue that people ought to be free to control themselves unless they perform certain freedom limiting actions, such as murdering another, because this has good consequences such as people not experiencing the suffering and preference violation that comes with one losing control over one’s body as a result of the actions of another. Rothbard has therefore failed to establish that libertarian self-ownership must be true as the other alternatives are not persuasive.

To conclude, none of Rothbard’s arguments for the natural right to self-ownership are convincing. The primary reasons being that Rothbard conflates control and just ownership and offers arguments for why the right to self-ownership ought to be enforced, not for why people do in fact possess the natural right to self-ownership.

Footnotes:

[1] Rothbard ‘For A New Liberty’. p33-34

[2] Rothbard, ‘The Ethics of Liberty’. p31

[3] Gordon, ‘The Essential Rothbard’. p90

[4] Rothbard ‘The Ethics of Liberty’. p24

[5] Rothbard  ‘The Ethics of Liberty’. p24.

[6] Rothbard ‘The Ethics of Liberty’. p155

[7] Bunnin & Yu ‘The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy’. p457

[8] Rothbard, ‘The Ethics of Liberty’, p31

[9] Rothbard, For A New Liberty. p33

[10] Rothbard, For A New Liberty, p34

[11] The argument is first made in Rothbard, ‘For A New Liberty’ p34-35, second in Rothbard, ‘Egalitarianism As A Revolt Against Nature’, p97-98, and lastly in  Rothbard, ‘The Ethics of Liberty’, p45-46

[12] Rothbard, ‘Egalitarianism As A Revolt Against Nature’ p84

[13] Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, p45

Why Rothbard’s Argument Against Voluntary Slavery Fails

The argument that self-ownership entails voluntary slavery is as follows. If individuals possess the right to exclusively control the use of their person, then they also possess the right to voluntarily transfer the right of exclusive control to another person. To transfer this right would be to transfer one’s ownership of one’s self. To be owned by another is to be a slave. Therefore self-ownership entails voluntary slavery.

In chapter 19 of ‘The Ethics of Liberty’, as part of a discussion of legitimate contracts, Rothbard gives the following argument against the possibility of voluntary slavery:

“Suppose that Smith makes the following agreement with the Jones Corporation: Smith, for the rest of his life, will obey all orders, under whatever conditions, that the Jones Corporation wishes to lay down. Now, in libertarian theory there is nothing to prevent Smith from making this agreement, and from serving the Jones Corporation and from obeying the latter’s orders indefinitely. The problem comes when, at some later date, Smith changes his mind and decides to leave. Shall he be held to his former voluntary promise? Our contention—and one that is fortunately upheld under present law—is that Smith’s promise was not a valid (i.e., not an enforceable) contract. There is no transfer of title in Smith’s agreement, because Smith’s control over his own body and will are inalienable. Since that control cannot be alienated, the agreement was not a valid contract, and therefore should not be enforceable. Smith’s agreement was a mere promise, which it might be held he is morally obligated to keep, but which should not be legally obligatory.”

In short, voluntary slavery cannot occur for two reasons. Firstly, an agent cannot alienate their free will and therefore their control over their own body to another agent.  Secondly, given the first reason, another agent cannot control another agent’s free will and since control is a requirement for ownership, one agent cannot own another agent as property. Since the transfer of self-ownership cannot occur, voluntary slavery is not a legitimate contract but instead a promise to perform certain actions, and therefore ought not to be enforced by law.

The problem with this argument is that the debate over voluntary slavery is concerned with the transfer of the moral right to control permissible use, that is, the moral right to control which actions are or are not performed. Voluntary slavery is not concerned with the transfer of the psychological capacity to directly control a human body. Clearly one cannot transfer one’s free will to another and one person cannot own another person’s free will. However, these two truths in no way demonstrate that one individual cannot possess the moral right to exclusively control the body of another. In Rothbard’s example the Jones corporation does not own or control Smith’s psychological capacity to control his body, rather they possess the moral right to determine which actions Smith performs and Smith does not possess the moral right to determine which actions that he himself performs. Rothbard’s argument therefore misses the point and so fails.

Anarcho-Capitalism and Child Sex Slaves

Natural Rights Anarcho-capitalism is one of the few 21st century political philosophies which justifies child sex slavery. The reason is as follows:

If an individual has the right to self-ownership, that is if they are sufficiently rational in some vague sense to be aware of their self-ownership, then they can make any voluntary contract they choose. One such contract is voluntary slavery and another is sex. Thus if a child develops self-ownership they can now become voluntary slaves and engage in voluntary sex with any other self-owner. It seems reasonable to assume that most 12 year olds would meet this very vague criteria, therefore a 12 year old can become the slave of someone else and engage in voluntary sex.

Now imagine that a 12 year old is very poor and her family is in a huge amount of debt which they cannot pay back. Luckily for her a benevolent 30 year old capitalist offers her a deal. He says “Sign this contract, in which you will become my slave and I have the right to have sex with you, and in exchange I will pay off your family’s debt. “The child agrees because if she does not both her and her family are likely to become homeless and possibly starve to death or die of illness. The child is now a sex slave and all this is morally permissible according to anarcho-capitalist ethics because no property rights have been violated. To put this into anarcho-capitalist language, child sex slavery is just  another voluntary and mutually beneficial contract, and what could be wrong with that? Aside from it violating human dignity and autonomy that is…

State & Corporate Property After The Anarcho-Capitalist Revolution

According to anarcho-capitalists, property derived from coercion is illegitimate. For example, if a thief steals a phone from someone, the thief’s ownership claim of the phone is illegitimate and the phone ought to be returned to it’s legitimate owner. Now imagine that the thief steals money from their victim and uses said money to buy a phone. In this case while it is true that they voluntarily purchased the phone, the money they used to buy the phone is derived from coercion, and therefore their ownership claim of the phone is illegitimate. It seems that the phone ought to be owned by the victim since it was their money that was used to purchase it. Now imagine a further scenario in which the thief steals from multiple people and uses the money he stole from these people to buy a phone. In this scenario the thief does not know how much of each victims money was used to buy the phone, only that the phone was bought with the money of the victims. In this case it seems that the phone ought to be owned by all the victims because they all have an equal claim to own the phone.

Let us now apply these considerations to state property. According to anarcho-capitalists state property is derived from either direct coercion, such as one state conquering another state, or indirect coercion, such as a state purchasing medicine from a company but doing so with money derived from taxation and therefore theft.  Some anarcho-capitalists argue that what is now state property ought to become un-owned property that can be homesteaded by individuals because we do not know who has the strongest claim to own what was state property. But this is inconsistent with the thief example, the fact that we did not know who had the strongest claim to own the phone did not make us conclude that the phone ought to be un-owned and be free to be homesteaded by any individual who comes across it. Rather we concluded that it ought to be owned in common since each victim had an equally strong claim to own the phone. This seems to also be the case with state property, therefore, state property ought to be owned in common by the victims of state coercion.

An anarcho-capitalist might respond by claiming that in the thief scenario we knew who the victims were but we do not know with respect to state violence e.g. we do not know which particular citizen’s taxes were used to pay for what. While this is true it does not refute my conclusion, since we do know, generally speaking, which collection of people are the victims of taxation. It is obviously the citizens of a particular state. Therefore, American citizens ought to own in common the property of the American government or French citizens ought to own in common the property of the French government. Anarcho-Capitalist principles of justice therefore entail social ownership of state property.

Moreover, states are not the only entities to own property because of state violence. Corporations receive massive amounts of state subsidies, as in stolen money, and maintain their monopolies via being state created legal entities which are granted privileges in the form of state regulation. The property of corporations therefore rest on state violence. Given that this is the case, surely corporate property also ought to be owned in common by those who are victims of the relevant state’s violence. Anarcho-capitalist principles of justice therefore perhaps entail social ownership of corporate property.