The goal of this unit is to:
Freedom means the ability to manage one’s own life. It contrasts with having one’s own life controlled by someone else. Freedom is the right, natural, and proper way humans ought to live. By “right” and “natural” it is meant that personal freedom is the only condition that fits human nature.
The human species has developed the ability to reason, as well as attributes like love, purpose, and conscience. Humans are rational beings.
Humans can ask questions like “What are humans, in essence?” and discover how they function and where they can go and what they can build. Reason — the ability to conceptualise in logical steps — is at the heart of that ability.
If humans are to express their humanity and be true to it, they must use that attribute. If they seek the optimal way to relate to other humans, it is reason they must use to find it. It is therefore important to understand what reason means. Humans often use, without much care, a phrase like “That seems reasonable” when what is really meant is “That fits my present beliefs.” Reason — rationality — is something very different. Reason involves a premise, and a process of logic.
A premise is a starting–point, from which subsequent steps of logic are taken. Often one will hear “where you stand depends on where you sit” and that is the meaning; if one starts with the premise that only baseball players with white skin can be considered one is quite likely to reason through to a very different answer for “who is the best baseball player?” than if the premise held skin colour irrelevant. Very often the tiresome “debates” on television involve talking heads with premises quite different from each other — so it is little wonder they end up in different places.
A rational discussion, or line of reasoning, should start from a stated premise. It may be right or wrong, and the resulting conclusion will depend on that, but a sound process of logic should then lead everyone from it to the same single conclusion.
Things are what they are, or more simply, A is A. If an action hurts somebody else who has posed no threat to the actor, it is called “aggression” for that is what it is. No matter what name the actor may give it so as to excuse or justify their action, A is A — they are an aggressor. If several centuries of observation, measurement, and reasoning prove that the earth orbits the sun, then despite contrary and authoritative but unsupported opinions, myths, and traditions, that is the way it really is: A is A.
A special kind of premise is an axiom — the sort that cannot be denied. It is not that an axiom can be verified or falsified, rather an axiom is self–evidently true — or more accurately, undeniable. The philosopher Ayn Rand put it well: A premise is an axiom if, in order to try to deny it explicitly, it is necessary to assume it implicitly.
An example of an axiom is “I exist.” It cannot be denied because the moment the speaker says “I do not exist” they are contradicting the obvious, namely that they have a mouth with which to form those words; entities that do not exist do not have mouths! In other words, they must implicitly confirm that they do exist, in the very act of trying explicitly to deny it — hence the premise is true, an axiom.
The process of logic then consists of a series of steps of the form “if A, therefore B” and lead eventually to a conclusion or proof. If Bush knew in 2003 that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, then he was lying. If macOS always works well, then Apple employs some good software writers and therefore we can expect the next Apple product to have good quality. Given that acceleration due to gravity is 9.75 metres per second per second (that is the premise), if someone were to fall from a tall building, then they shall travel down at over 160 kilometres per hour, therefore the impact with the foot path will break many bones, and therefore they will probably die.
A line of reasoning can and should be tested, for example:
Reason, as understood above, not only solves puzzles — it includes forming decisions for action. Trucks are approaching fast, therefore one should wait before crossing the road. That job opportunity fits an individual’s skills and talents, therefore they will apply for it. That company is well–managed and has shown a sound record of profit–making, therefore people will buy its shares. Two individuals have many interests in common, one finds the other beautiful and they love each other passionately, therefore one will ask the other to marry them. Humans do this all the time, usually without realising they are using reason to decide how to spend their lives.
Something rationally follows from this: It is reasonable to enquire whether humans have the power, as well as this ability, to make reasoned, action decisions for themselves; that is, whether human beings are self–owners. “Self–ownership” does not imply that “I” the owner am somehow separate from “myself” as the owned object, but that “I–myself” am integrated as a whole being, self–contained and self–directed.
Humans are reasoning animals. They figure things out logically and make decisions accordingly. All of that is done independently of what other humans decide. Their decisions may affect the choice, but it is still the individual’s choice.
Here is the premise or axiom: Self–ownership is the natural state of being whereby consciousness has exclusive authority over the physical body it inhabits, authority meaning the power to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. The body is subject to the will of the individual.
Using reason alone it is possible to test that an individual owns itself. The test is that in order to deny the premise explicitly one must assume it implicitly. If self–ownership is the premise, one can deny it by saying “I do not own myself.”
Immediately, there are problems. First, how dare one express an opinion about who owns them, if in fact they do not own themselves? They would have no right even to open their mouth without permission, let alone pronounce a profound judgement! Second, and even worse, if ownership — the right to decide, to direct, and to control — of a human individual is not vested in the person themselves, then it must be vested in someone else. Who?
Some other person, maybe. But in that case how did they acquire such ownership rights? This was the nonsense underlying slavery. “Owners” bought slaves at the “market”, from shippers who never owned the transported Africans in the first place — they had merely kidnapped them. Certainly, the slaves’ self–ownership was being horribly denied in practice, but it was there anyway by mere fact of existence. So no, one cannot be owned by another person.
What, not even if one were to donate themselves to someone else? No! Why not? Because at the instant of such an attempt to donate oneself, to transfer ownership to another, the property item being transferred would be a self–owning person, which is impossible! If one is a self–owner the moment before such a transfer, one is still a self–owning person the instant afterwards, and therefore the alleged transfer would be a total fraud.
So if not “somebody else” can it be said that every human is owned by some group of persons such as a company or a government — as in “I owe my soul to the Company store”? Again one must ask, how exactly was such ownership acquired, and there is simply no answer to that because it is impossible for even a willing would–be slave to surrender their own ownership of their own person.
Lastly, might it be that God owns humans? Leaving aside the question of whether God exists, the answer must be no, for there is the insoluble problem of transfer. Even if that were somehow solved, for God to acquire ownership rights one would need to have had them in the first place in order for their donation of themselves to be valid. Also, there is an extra problem: If it is argued that God owns everyone anyway by right of creation, then all humans are slaves and the other human attributes of free will, moral choices, and expressions of love are all cruel illusions. Humans would be mere puppets, no more. And that simply does not fit what one can observe with their senses.
By their very nature each person owns themselves. Every attempt to prevent them from exercising that ownership is an irrational denial of reality. By an individual’s mere existence, they have the exclusive claim to own and operate their own life, any way they wish. This is true for everybody else too.
What is a premise and what is an axiom?
Why is it possible that each human being might be their own self-owner?
Why is it certain that each human being must be their own self–owner?
Suppose one’s absolute right to make all their own decisions is denied by someone in practice. How can that interference be properly described?
So, one has the right to do anything they like with their own life. Are there any limits at all on that power?