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Why is stealing even wrong?

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Luminar Posted: Fri, Oct 5 2012 12:50 PM

If ownership just means having control over property, then wouldn't the State be justified in owning everything? Unless ownership can be defined properly.

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Anenome replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 12:54 PM

Luminar:

If ownership just means having control over property, then wouldn't the State be justified in owning everything? Unless ownership can be defined properly.

There's still the question of just ownership. A thief may 'own' something he just stole, in the sense that it's in his possession and control. However his ownership is unjust.

As for the state, they have not gained control of anything via voluntary trade or homesteading, thus their control of any territory is not just but completely illegitimate. They neither own nor can own the territories they claim jurisdiction over, and they certainly cannot to own the people whom they claim jurisdiction over.

Each man is a sovereign over himself and should be able to secede from any ruling authority with simply the decision to do so, because rule is by consent of the governed, right? Withdraw your consent and the ruler must respect that, or else they are claiming to own you.

However, in the US, the right to secede was abolished long ago, and the government claims the right to tax you even if you are outside the country.

The US has begun to treat citizens as if they are owned by the US.

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Luminar replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 1:00 PM

No, I want you to define "ownership" epistemically. Otherwise you concede that theft is justified.

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That's de-facto ownership, yes. Just like slaveowners were de-facto owners of slaves.

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Anenome replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 1:15 PM

They say possession is 9/10ths of the law.

For larger things like houses, they use title to track who owns what.

In terms of the state we need only look at history. The state was founded illegitimately, by conquest, war, or deceit.

As for theft, I don't think you can justify theft epistemically. You would have to make a moral case for that, and you'd certainly fail to do so.

As for ownership, he whom produces it owns it. The first to take a thing out of a state of nature is the owner. The evidence of this is his possesion of it. He has thereby the highest claim on it, and legitimately so.

How exactly do you suggest theft could be justified if ownership is not epistemically defined?

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Luminar replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 1:28 PM

If that's the case, how can taxation, the execution of de-facto ownership, qualify as theft?

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Luminar:
If ownership just means having control over property, then wouldn't the State be justified in owning everything? Unless ownership can be defined properly.

I treat ownership as a normative concept, not a descriptive one. Otherwise, whoever controls something at a given moment therefore owns it at that moment, and ownership therefore has no distinction from control. So ownership to me denotes the right to control something, not controlling it per se.

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Luminar replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 1:32 PM

And what, epistemically, gives someone the right to control something?

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Before I try to answer that, could you first please explain what you mean by "epistemically"?

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Luminar replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 1:39 PM

Forget it. Just, what grants a man the right to control something?

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Luminar replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 1:40 PM

Why is the above post italized?

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Nothing objectively gives anyone the right to control anything. Rights exist only within the mind.

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Clayton replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 1:46 PM

And what, epistemically, gives someone the right to control something?

Why is the the word "epistemically" in that sentence? o.O

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How can slavery qualify as abuse?

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Luminar replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 3:37 PM

Nothing objectively gives anyone the right to control anything. Rights exist only within the mind.

So theft isn't wrong.

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Ownership doesn't mean just having control over a thing.  Ownership is established by first use or acquisition through voluntary contractual exchange.  The state can never "own" any portion of the possessions, income, or selves of any person.  That kind of relationship just isn't possible under the definition of ownership.

That kind of relationship is a violent one.  It is coercive use of others' property.  It violates NAP.  This is why the state and taxation are not ethical constructs.

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Luminar replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 4:00 PM

Why is the the word "epistemically" in that sentence? o.O

Should have been "philosophically."

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http://againstpolitics.com/2008/12/09/the-presumption-of-liberty/

I recommend you investigate De Jasays work on the presumption of freedom.

Stealing/theft is a violation thereof

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Anenome replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 5:22 PM
 
 

Autolykos:
I treat ownership as a normative concept, not a descriptive one. Otherwise, whoever controls something at a given moment therefore owns it at that moment, and ownership therefore has no distinction from control.

I would say ownership is exactly that, control. And the thief does indeed own that which he controls, though his ownership is not just, it is illegitimate. What problem can you root out from that in real world consequences, if any?

 

 

 
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Clayton replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 5:24 PM

Should have been "philosophically."

That's as clear as mud. The point in using an adjective is to specify "this" rather than "that" kind of something. What is the difference between "philosophically wrong" and just plain old wrong?

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Anenome replied on Fri, Oct 5 2012 5:26 PM
 
 

Luminar:

Nothing objectively gives anyone the right to control anything. Rights exist only within the mind.

So theft isn't wrong.

Theft is wrong. Suppose everyone lived by theft? What would result?

Production would stop immediately, since everyone is now living by theft. There would result wars over the remaining goods, which would soon run out, and the human race would shortly perish.

It is in the nature of man to live by production, by combining his effort with his surroundings to produce private property, not by theft.

You could not base a society successfully on theft. Theft is wrong, it would result in death.

 
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I recommend you investigate De Jasays work on the presumption of freedom.

I second this.  We can only say that control necessarily poinst to legitimate ownership where any and all exchanges of control have been voluntary (they must be counted legitimate since none of the involved parties have viewed these exchanges as illegitimate).  When disputes arise, questions over the standard of ownership are raised.  Pretty much all societies have used the standard of first use, since a) the burden of proof naturally falls on the intervener (see De Jasay), b) there is possibility of determining the first user and the intervener in physical terms, and c) this arrangement was evolutionarily successful.

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Ownership is a social construct, which came about by evolution, as a way for people to determine who rightfully controls something, to avoid conflict, which would lessen the chance of survival of the human race.

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Theft is a breach of contract in my view.

Go to store x, there is a price for y item. That is the contracct, to obtain the item, you must pay x price.

You buying the item is a agreement between you and the seller.

If you steal the item without paying, the contract is breached.

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Luminar:
So theft isn't wrong.

Is your implicit argument that, if there's no objective (i.e. external to the mind) basis for "right" and "wrong", then nothing is objectively "right" or "wrong"? But isn't that just a tautology?

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Anenome:
I would say ownership is exactly that, control. And the thief does indeed own that which he controls, though his ownership is not just, it is illegitimate. What problem can you root out from that in real world consequences, if any?

You're free to define "ownership" the same way you define "control". But as I said, that makes the proposition "whoever controls something at a given moment therefore owns it at that moment" logically consistent by tautology. That's fine, although I think it would be confusing to people who 1) define "ownership" differently from "control" and 2) aren't able or willing to adopt semantics different from their own for the purpose of argument. Also, the traditional definition of "ownership" is inherently normative, as it's derived from the verb "to owe".

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Anenome replied on Mon, Oct 8 2012 11:59 AM
 
 

Autolykos:

Anenome:
I would say ownership is exactly that, control. And the thief does indeed own that which he controls, though his ownership is not just, it is illegitimate. What problem can you root out from that in real world consequences, if any?

You're free to define "ownership" the same way you define "control". But as I said, that makes the proposition "whoever controls something at a given moment therefore owns it at that moment" logically consistent by tautology.

That's true, and iirc, Rothbard makes the same point as me on this issue, or rather I the same as him. But that's why the libertarian is not only concerned with property, but just property. That qualifier is all important. All property is at all times under someone's control and therefore ownership. Whether that ownership is just is another matter.

 

 
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MaikU replied on Mon, Oct 8 2012 12:46 PM

I'm in bed with commies, I make a clear distinction between the possesion and ownership, only that I define ownership as legitimate and just possesion, while simple possesion can be only control of someone elses property. So thief posses my bike, but he doesn't own it. It's my property. Here.

 

 

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Neodoxy replied on Mon, Oct 8 2012 12:47 PM

"You could not base a society successfully on theft. Theft is wrong, it would result in death."

But on an individual level I am faced with the choice to steal or not to steal, not to make society a bunch of thieves or not. Individual ethics do not need to rely upon the needs of society, even if the individual's survival ultimately depends upon it. This is one of the greatest problems that I find in Rand's work, is that as much as she would hate this, it is a fact that a rational individual could, under certain situations, be entirely rational if he were to kill or steal from other men according to her explanation of the term, and indeed it would be a moral requirement to do so by her very standard of life, but I digress.

I would argue that man has no "nature", as such, his nature depending entirely upon his surroundings at any time, his mental predispositions, and previous experiences, and therefore there is no umbrella "man" which we can point to in order to classify what is wrong for every individual. It is this vein of thinking which puts a collectivistic source for individual ethics that I don't understand and which I have a very big problem with involving libertarians. Therefore from a wholistic perspective, from a societal perspective, then you could be justified in saying that something is wrong, but from the standpoint of individual ethics, then the answer to the thread question relies upon this, and ultimately this is the case for all ethics:

Because we believe this, and will this to be the case.

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Anenome replied on Mon, Oct 8 2012 3:17 PM
 
 

MaikU:

I'm in bed with commies, I make a clear distinction between the possesion and ownership, only that I define ownership as legitimate and just possesion, while simple possesion can be only control of someone elses property. So thief posses my bike, but he doesn't own it. It's my property. Here.

That's a good way to look at it.

Possession is a rights neutral term for controlling something in the now. Both an owner and a thief can possess the same object at different times. But he whom has legitimate right to make decisions about a property, that is to control it, is the owner. The thief cannot gain that right by the illegitimate act of theft, though he seeks to act as if he has.

 
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Anenome replied on Mon, Oct 8 2012 3:27 PM
 
 

Neodoxy:

I would argue that man has no "nature", as such, his nature depending entirely upon his surroundings at any time, his mental predispositions, and previous experiences, and therefore there is no umbrella "man" which we can point to in order to classify what is wrong for every individual.

This is demonstrably and intuitively incorrect, and I'll explain why.

First, let's talk about what we mean when we talk about a thing's nature.

A car cannot run on water as a fuel because it is not in the nature of water to explode when combine with air and a spark. Similarly, all that we've discovered about chemicals, in terms of their reactivity, hardness, are discoveries about the nature of those specific things. It is the nature of an electron to have a negative charge.

When it comes to humankind, the nature we observe is far more complex, because man, like all animals, has agency, a decision-making capacity. However, we can still obsever things about the nature of a living creature.

For one thing, and most importantly, any creature with agency is and must be alive. They must do certain things to remain alive. This is in the objective nature of man.

There have been several people in history whom believed that a person could live without food and water, and they were proved incorrect by their own deaths in trying to live this out. It is in the nature of man to continue to live if and only if they take in enough air, food, and water to support their cellular life processes.

Similarly, it is not in the nature of man to be able to process certain things we call poison, and consuming them in sufficient quantity will kill any person. However, man's nature differs from that of other animals in this respect. Man can eat bananas. But it is not in the nature of some birds to eat bananas--they find them poisonous.

As for man's mental choices, we observe that man seeks what we might call 'plus factors,' or to profit spiritually and physically. Thus, man makes choices designed to further his values. Whatever values man chooses, he will act to obtain or to prevent the loss of.

All value systems which did not value life have weeded themselves out of the gene-pool thereby and are gone :P So we're left purely with one overriding, sure value for humanity, the value of life. That is something we can base an agnostic ethical system on, and thereby a political system.

Neodoxy:
It is this vein of thinking which puts a collectivistic source for individual ethics that I don't understand and which I have a very big problem with involving libertarians. Therefore from a wholistic perspective, from a societal perspective, then you could be justified in saying that something is wrong, but from the standpoint of individual ethics, then the answer to the thread question relies upon this, and ultimately this is the case for all ethics:

Because we believe this, and will this to be the case.

Sure. So the real answer is to choose for yourself and not to create a society that forces that choice on others.Take the 'we' out of your final line and put 'I' in there and the quandry is removed. Because when you impose something on yourself we do not call this tyranny but rather self-discipline.

That's the meaning of autarchy, to allow each person to choose for themselves and then allow those whom choose similarly to group together into ad hoc societies, protected from those whom choose differently.

I suggest you read Ethics of Libertyfor Rothbard's treatment on universal ethical principles and how such can be legitimate.

 
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Neodoxy replied on Mon, Oct 8 2012 4:21 PM

Anenome,

What I mean when Is say that man "has no nature" is that man has no predisposed way which he must interact with his environment beyond how these physical factors must necessarily shape his mind. He has certain objective factors which dictate what he can do, but not how he perceives his universe and attempts to interact with it. There are certain predisposition of man, but these can generally be overcome.

Insofar as man has something which can be called "freedom" in the truest sense of the word  he has nothing which can be called nature. Man does have certain things he is destined towards, but these are the very things which make him a distinct individual. Furthermore there is a natural predisposition which man has, but this can be almost entirely overcome.

I also disagree that life is a value as such, but rather the ultimate means. I do not value because of life, I value it because of the experiences that it holds in the same way that I value my sight, not because of the act of sight, but rather because of the things I can see and the advantages that seeing provides for me. Our genome was designed and consists mainly of outdated information from tens of thousands of years ago, and if not much longer before that.

I agree with your assessment of "mental choice", but ultimately the being we call man consists of mental choice, we don't value people because they are bodies, we value them because they are mentally distinct and admirable individuals. This is not what I consider to be nature because it does not necessitate a specific sort of interaction with the outside world beyond what the individual is physically capable of.

"Sure. So the real answer is to choose for yourself and not to create a society that forces that choice on others."

Yes and no. Only individual valuation can make something good or bad, but nonetheless it makes sense for one who believes that stealing is evil to fight for a society which enforces this rule, regardless of whether it is good or evil to others.

"Take the 'we' out of your final line and put 'I' in there and the quandary is removed."

I know what you're saying but 'the individual" would make a better substitute.

"That's the meaning of autarchy, to allow each person to choose for themselves and then allow those whom choose similarly to group together into ad hoc societies, protected from those whom choose differently."

Yes, but this too is a form of tyranny (if you deem that "choosing for another"), even if it is only to retaliate or end the original instigator of tyranny. The only way that man can neutral in matters is if he cannot make up his own mind about how he feels. If you kill a man who is attempting to kill you, then you have deemed his actions evil or egregious to you. You have chosen, period.

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For corporations, earning money is stealing its customers' money. They buy goods made cheaply and resell them at higher prices, thus ripping you off. I don't morally give a damn when I steal from Walmart, Target, other major stores. But never shoplift from small local businesses. :\

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presumably the small local businesses you support buy expensive goods and sell them at low low prices

Where there is no property there is no justice; a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid

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