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Private Property and Wittgenstein’s Beetle

I noted in “What Libertarianism Is” (n.1):

The term “private” property rights is sometimes used by libertarians, which I have always found odd, since property rights are necessarily public, not private, in the sense that the borders or boundaries of property must be publicly visible so that nonowners can avoid trespass. For more on this aspect of property borders, see Hans-Hermann Hoppe, A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism: Economics, Politics, and Ethics (Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989), pp. 140–41; Stephan Kinsella, “A Libertarian Theory of Contract: Title Transfer, Binding Promises, and Inalienability,”Download PDF Journal of Libertarian Studies 17, no. 2 (Spring 2003): n. 32 and accompanying text; idem, Against Intellectual Property (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2008), pp. 30–31, 49; also Randy E. Barnett, “A Consent Theory of Contract,” Columbia Law Review 86 (1986): 303.

(See also n.10 of “Intellectual Property and Libertarianism,” and text at n.11 of “Intellectual Freedom and Learning Versus Patent and Copyright.”)

I thought of this when I came across a discussion of “Wittgenstein’s Beetle“:

Another point that Wittgenstein makes against the possibility of a private language involves the beetle-in-a-box thought experiment.[20] He asks the reader to imagine that each person has a box, inside of which is something that everyone intends to refer to with the word “beetle”. Further, suppose that no one can look inside another’s box, and each claims to know what a “beetle” is only by examining their own box. Wittgenstein suggests that, in such a situation, the word “beetle” could not be the name of a thing, because supposing that each person has something completely different in their boxes (or nothing at all) does not change the meaning of the word; the beetle as a private object “drops out of consideration as irrelevant”.[20] Thus, Wittgenstein argues, if we can talk about something, then it is not private, in the sense considered. And, conversely, if we consider something to be indeed private, it follows that we cannot talk about it.

In the book Wittgenstein’s Beetle, Martin Cohen dismisses the experiment saying it “does not provide any support for the many different conclusions claimed by psychologists, philosophers and so many others” and suggests that it even seems to reinforce the notion that words have stable meanings.[21]

I.e., both language and property are in a sense public. The connection is that property has to have a communicative (language) function, in that it sets up publicly observable or visible borders to communicate to third parties that a given resource is claimed by an owner and how they can avoid trespassing.

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