Stefan Molyneux on property rights.


Normaly I avoid doing critiques of video’s these day, but I ended up doing this one anyway, and am sharing it here. The orignal video can be found here https://youtu.be/nFcaanYaFKU , but I am not a supporter of Stefan Molyneux and I don’t really think he offer anything of real value, your better of reading “Understanding Power” by Noam Chomsky, or “Neo-liberalism a Breif History” by David Harely.

My first listen of Molyneux’s video on property rights had me really wondering what he was saying. It was vague enough that I could impose various interpretations. Having since rewatched it I find that first inerpritation was a bit too harsh, but he does rely heavily on assertion of his position as fact, rather than sound logical reasoning.

He begins by saying not only that property rights are the basis of all morality and ethics, a dubious claim at best, and then that property rights are all about self ownership and owning the effects of one’s own actions, a far more defensible position. While self determination (Being able to make choices free of compulsion) and personal autonomy (the freedom to live one’s own life and make moral and personal choices, affecting the self, interdependently should you wish it.) are quite powerful foundation to build morality, self ownership as property rights as Molyneux describes isn’t in my view so robust a foundation as he claims, and is certainly not foundational to all of ethics.

He then goes into a garbage can analogy, which amounts to the idea that actions are more important than ownership in determining who is responsible for product. The example being if you knock over someone else garbage can the mess you made is yours even if the can and the garbage belongs to another. He does mention there can be blameless situations, but Stephan does not explain how his model would deal with such instances. As an aside would it also then be the case that if you sneak into a person’s workshop and build a new contraction that while he would own the parts you would own the machine, just as you would the mess?

Moving on according to Molyneux that full personal ownership in the first Criterion of property rights, and therefore morality, as such co-owner ship is not morally relevant in Molyneux system of morality presented here. Again another glaring problem as there are clearly plenty of instances where co-ownership is just as relevant as sole ownership, really any time something is co owned it only seems to make the morality more complex, rather then some how making it irrelevant. My guess would be that he seems to be shooting himself in the foot to try to avoid a loose association with “socialism.”

He then goes on to an aside where he discusses that because we are hard-wired into our own nervous system, or more correctly in my mind, we are our own nervous system and our body is controlled by nervous system, and because no one else can take control of our nervous system, we have full and unquestionable ownership of ourselves, to use terms he uses later in the video, you have a natural enclosure on the “property rights” of your own body. In essence not one can question your ownership because they couldn’t have any kind of claim like you do. The one problem this is when you ask, what happens as Neuroscience improves into the future and we not only can remote control insects like we can now but can remote control or even remotely program other human beings? Does that mean we can now lose our autonomy because other people can access our nervous system and control our bodies? I’d say that given Molyneux’s description of property rights, that if you ever take ownership of a body early before they really have a chance to be considered an independent person enough, or someone gives it to you voluntarily, then yes you can lose self ownership and essentially lose your standing as a moral agent. This to me seems to be a problematic outcome of the theory proposed by Molyneux. Even if this sort of loss of personal ownership is not relevant right at this moment in time since science has yet to progress to that stage, I have not yet ruled out other way in which you might lose your personal ownership, and since there appears at least one I would not be surprised if there was more.

He then makes the point that coercion is different from choice, and makes the point that culpability falls upon the one doing the coercion, or the instigator in cases where someone is forced into an action such as self defence. nothing wrong here.

Stefan’s next major claim is the idea that property rights is not what you grab but when you create, that almost certainly is simply not true, simply because of historical facts. Basically all wealth has been at least indirectly created upon the results of violence and if you don’t respect that historical context, at least in passing, I’m going to find you position on ethics dubious. Another problem with this and the counter argument that comes along with it is the notion that the first people to an uncontested piece of land are just grabbing that land, and while yes it is true that to maintain and say that you do own that land you have to build and essentially take over that land, you can in theory hold far far more land and even build things on it then you can actually personally use especially if your main focus is to keep others from using that land. This is why the distinction of of private property and person personal property is important because it seems it can be unethical for someone to simply grab a huge hunk of land they can’t use if there are other people need it, but Molyneux’s position doesn’t actually allow for that kind of distinction. 

Next Stefan says that what creates that property right in the first place in the example of land is when you actually “enclose” your ownership over that land once you can get other people to accept that you own that land. the problem here being there is simply a tyranny of the powerful written directly into the theory, However, confusingly he then implies that this is just like self owner ship, but if so then if someone in the future where to ever enclose the rights of someone else body with a general agreement, or do so while the person was unable to respond, such as an infant, this implies that you could at least in theory, deny someone self ownership, and remove them from the morality question altogether.

I think the main flaw in the Stephen Molyneux argument is the fact that he is trying to do too much with a single concept. He’s attempting to wrap up the ideas of personal and bodily autonomy, additionally he’s trying to wrap in all of property rights, providing no distinction between personal and private property. By doing this he creates a bunch of what I think are unsavoury consequences including not only that you could theoretically lose your bodily autonomy if someone were to “enclose” their own rights around your bodily autonomy, but indeed it doesn’t prevent people from enclosing their rights around practically any property is as long as they have a general agreement from the relevant persons. While this doesn’t necessarily have to be bad it doesn’t preclude imperialism for example. an imperialist could easily use the logic to justify taking land from people they being irrelevant savages, particularly since he denies co-ownership as relevant moral form of ownership, so he immediately gives away this big chunk that basically justifies the seizure of land from many Native American tribes who lacked complete personal ownership over the land.

In conclusion I find that Stefan Molyneux philosophical position is rather shaky, and not only has he competely failed to show that property rights as he’s described them are foundational to all ethics, but I think I’ve pointed out where his conception of property rights as this bundled concept gives up a lot in order to condense personal autonomy, private property, and personal property into a single concept. Removing any protections or distictions between moral agents and inanimate objects.

Withteeth 

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