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Libertarian Answer Man: Mind-Body Dualism, Self-Ownership, and Property Rights

From this facebook post:




“Hi Stephan, The other day, I was asked whether argumentation ethics presupposes a mind-body dualism since Hoppe makes the argument in A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism that nth-use property rights (when n != 1) can’t be justified since nth-use property rights would imply an nth-use of the body, which contradicts the presuppositions of argumentation. He explicitly states, “And this distinction can only be made in such a clear-cut and unambiguous way because for bodies…the separation between ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ is not based on verbal declarations but on action,” and, “The separation is based on the observation that some particular scarce resource had in fact…been made an expression or materialization of one’s own will, or, as the case may be, of someone else’s will” (A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, pg 156). Isn’t Hoppe assuming that the body is something separate from the will which makes the separation between two bodies the same as any other separation of property (as a manifestation of one’s will), or am I misunderstanding him here?”

KINSELLA: I don’t think he or I talk in this kind of symbolic logic notation like “n-th” blah blah blah. He reasons precisely, but verbally.

His point in these quotes seems pretty clear to me. First he argues from argumentation ethics that people own their their bodies, and that this is what is basically meant by the nonaggression principle: and that the principles of property rights in general, for all scarce resources, must also be implied in those for the body. As he writes in TSC

“as the things with respect to which norms have to be formulated are scarce goods — just as a person’s body is a scarce good — and as it is only necessary to formulate norms at all because goods are scarce and not because they are particular kinds of scarce goods, the specifications of the nonaggression principle, conceived of as a special property norm referring to a specific kind of good, must in fact already contain those of a general theory of property.”

And then he points out that this has to be based on objective facts, not mere verbal declarations. The same holds true for ownership of external resources, so as he says:

“And this distinction can only be made in such a clear-cut and unambiguous way because for bodies, as for anything else, the separation between “mine” and “yours” is not based on verbal declarations but on action.”

This is buttressed by his views written only in German that I note in my article How We Come To Own Ourselves,

“The answer to the question what makes my body “mine” lies in the obvious fact that this is not merely an assertion but that, for everyone to see, this is indeed the case. Why do we say “this is my body”? For this a twofold requirement exists. On the one hand it must be the case that the body called “mine” must indeed (in an intersubjectively ascertainable way) express or “objectify” my will. Proof of this, as far as my body is concerned, is easy enough to demonstrate: When I announce that I will now lift my arm, turn my head, relax in my chair (or whatever else) and these announcements then become true (are fulfilled), then this shows that the body which does this has been indeed appropriated by my will. If, to the contrary, my announcements showed no systematic relation to my body’s actual behavior, then the proposition “this is my body” would have to be considered as an empty, objectively unfounded assertion; and likewise this proposition would be rejected as incorrect if following my announcement not my arm would rise but always that of Müller, Meier, or Schulze (in which case one would more likely be inclined to consider Müller’s, Meier’s, or Schulze’s body “mine”). On the other hand, apart from demonstrating that my will has been “objectified” in the body called “mine,” it must be demonstrated that my appropriation has priority as compared to the possible appropriation of the same body by another person. ”

As far as bodies are concerned, it is also easy to prove this. We demonstrate it by showing that it is under my direct control, while every other person can objectify (express) itself in my body only indirectly, i.e., by means of their own bodies, and direct control must obviously have logical-temporal priority (precedence) as compared to any indirect control. The latter simply follows from the fact that any indirect control of a good by a person presupposes the direct control of this person regarding his own body; thus, in order for a scarce good to become justifiably appropriated, the appropriation of one’s directly controlled “own” body must already be presupposed as justified. It thus follows: If the justice of an appropriation by means of direct control must be presupposed by any further-reaching indirect appropriation, and if only I have direct control of my body, then no one except me can ever justifiably own my body (or, put differently, then property in/of my body cannot be transferred onto another person), and every attempt of an indirect control of my body by another person must, unless I have explicitly agreed to it, be regarded as unjust(ified).”

Note here it is action—one’s use of the will to directly control one’s body—that gives him a better claim to the body. It is also action that demarcates external objects—the action of using and transforming and embordering them—that demarcates them as yours. Your will does this, not a mere verbal declaration.

I am not sure what you mean here by mind-body dualism, but of course these are different concepts. Your mind is not the same as your brain. Your person or identity as an actor is not the same as your body. Your will is tied up with your actions, and the will is not the same concept as the body. Your mind is associated with your identity as an actor—a choosing being—and the choosing and will and control that is asserted is the control of one’s body.

To me the argument makes sense. I am not sure why you need to get into “nth” and “n-th-+1” nomenclature to grok all this, or what it has to do with mind-body dualism. Feel free to elaborate if you want.

Followup email exchange:


“The reason I wrote “nth-use” was to shorten some of the arguments against original appropriation by using “n-th use” as a substitute for second-use, third-use, fourth-use, e.t.c, and is in no way central to the question I was trying to ask; sorry if that made my question unnecessarily complicated.

“When I say mind-body dualism I’m talking about the idea that the will is separate from the material body (like how Hoppe and Mises conceive of identity with the actor utilizing scarce, material means to achieve his ends) whereas some believe personal identity consists of solely the body (like behaviorists) or the mind (like Platonists, since they believed the material world was entirely illusory).”


I am not sure you need to take a stance on these ill-defined angels-on-a-pin “problems” to have sound reasoning about norms and rights. Conceptually speaking, the will, the mind, the brain, the body, the person, are all distinct concepts that have different referents, though they are certainly interrelated. I don’t see the problem at all. We use language and concepts to explain things, and there are different realms of phenomenon we seek to discuss and explain–so in Misesian economics we have a type of dualism of the causal vs. the teleological realm, for example–you can regard a human being that you witness moving about the world, as a “behaving” meat-robot (causal) or you can conceptualize him as a purpose-driven, choosing “actor”.

IMO both conceptualizations are just pragmatic groupings to understand the world. Likewise you can distinguish fact and description from norms and prescription. You can distinguish is from ought. You can distinguish the mind from the brain. You can distinguish the person or actor from the body. Action is distinct from the body, but it is related to it: action or labor is what you (the person, the actor, having a “mind”) does “with” your body; your actions are an exercise of your will, or choice.

I find it tedious to have to explain and dissect what ought to be simple and common sense, but if it’s necessary to break it down, it can be done. I just feel like it usually only needs to be done, in the face of someone utterly confused, who is hardly worth talking to, or someone disingenuous and dishonest, slippery and engaging in equivocation–who is also hardly worth talking to.


“Is it possible that a monist like one of those described could come along and rightly say, “Yes, no other norm but self-ownership can be justified, but original appropriation of external things does not follow from self-ownership as your right to your body exists because you are your body while you aren’t external things.”


They can “say” whatever they want but it’s a dumb criticism. First, the argument for ownership of external things does not depend on the nonsensical notion that we “are” the external things (although the colloquial usage of language does sometimes imply this: when we say an owned object is my “property” this implies it’s part of me. In a sense this is true, as we employ resources are tools to extend our reach into and control of the world. But saying that hammer is my property is like saying it’s a property of me; it’s one of my features or characteristics; it’s part of my identity. That is why I agree with the legal scholar Yiannopoulos–note the last sentence in particular:

“Property is a word with high emotional overtones and so many meanings that it has defied attempts at accurate all-inclusive definition. The English word property derives from the Latin proprietas, a noun form of proprius, which means one’s own. In the United States, the word property is frequently used to denote indiscriminately either the objects of rights … or the rights that persons have with respect to things. Thus, lands, automobiles, and jewels are said to be property; and rights, such as ownership, servitudes, and leases, are likewise said to be property. This latent confusion between rights and their objects has its roots in texts of Roman law and is also encountered in other legal systems of the western world. Accurate analysis should reserve the use of the word property for the designation of rights that persons have with respect to things.” (As noted here, Libertarian Answer Man: Self-ownership for slaves and Crusoe; and Yiannopoulos on Accurate Analysis and the term “Property”)

In any case, even if you view yourself and your identity “as a body,” this still does not undermine the libertarian case for property rights in external objects. Here is why. Even if I am my body, first, this is no barrier to self ownership; self-ownership is simply the answer to the question: “who owns this body?” The answer is: that person himself. If the person is the body, then, the body owns the body. I know sophistic assholes will try to object to this on some stupid made up grounds but that means they are in favor of slavery. They say if you are just a body, you can’t own yourself since this is “circular” or something. So I guess that means others can own you–that is, you can’t object if someone harms your body. After all, you don’t own it! No thank you, I favor self-ownership even if a stunted philosophical framework prevents you from using normal concepts and forces you to say that each person is “only a body”. Every person owns his own body, however you characterize the “person.”

But in any case, and back to the question: even if “you” are “just your body,” this is not the reason you are its owner–and so, it’s no barrier to you owning external objects just because they are “not you”. The reason I am the owner of my body is that I (whatever you define “I” as) am the one with the *best objective link to* my body. Why?–well, since I can *directly control it*. This is Hoppe’s argument, as implied in TSC (in the quotes you sent me previously) and as made more explicit in the previous German-language work by Hoppe which I excerpted a translation of in my How We Come To Own Ourselves article (see above, our original exchange).

In other words, “I” (whether this is me, as a person, an actor, conceptually distinct from, but related to, my body; or me, as my body) control my body so I have the best link to it so I own it. If you are a monist-materialist I guess you could awkwardly say “Body A controls what Body A does so Body A is the owner of Body A”. Fine. But still, you could say “Body A owns resource X because Body A homesteaded that resource and thus established the best link to that resource X”. In other words, you don’t need to solve the mind-body dualism mental masturbation crap to reason this way. However you view the nature of self, you can still argue that a given human (body, person, whatever) acts and emborders a previously unused and unowned resource and thus has a better claim to it than others who seek to contest your control and use of it. In other words, when two people (even if you view them merely as bodies) contest a conflictable, scarce resource, then if they seek a norm to justify a rightful owner, the one with the best claim or link to the resource obviously has to win, and that is obviously the person who is already possessing it and who already established a connection to it previously by his homesteading/embordering activity.

So I think the person who seeks to undermine property rights in external resource by some sophistic “monist” reasoning is really just being dishonest and disingenuous. As Ayn Rand said,

“Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper’s bell of an approaching looter.”

And as Lew Rockwell said,

“Is there a need to reform taxes? Most certainly. Always and everywhere. You can always make a strong case against all forms of taxation and all tax codes and all mechanisms by which a privileged elite attempts to extract wealth from the population. And this is always the first step in any tax reform: get the public seething about the tax code, and do it by way of preparation for step two, which is the proposed replacement system. Of course, this is the stage at which you need to hold onto your wallet.”

In other words, anyone pretending to play philosophical games to question property rights in external objects–on whatever made-up basis, monism or whatever–is just trying to find a way to take your shit. So keep your eye on these f*ckers.


“I hope the question makes sense–I can’t think of a better way to word it at the moment. I think you and Hoppe are right in that the will and body are two different concepts;”


Oh, it’s not just me an Hoppe. It’s the dictionary. It’s just how words are used, which usually reflect conceptual economy. No one thinks action and labor are your body; it’s what you do with your body. No one thinks the mind is the brain; the mind doens’t have a weight, for example; and a dead human body has a brain but no mind. They are just different things. And no one really thinks the human person is the same as the body; it’s just that secularists and empiricists are stuck in their monism-logical positivism and have no understanding of dualism; they are afraid to admit the person is distinct from the body because they (wrongly) assume this implies a supernatural realm and a “soul”, which is simply not true. Just like Mises views human behavior in two realms: mere behavior, which is explainable only in the causal realm; and action, which is understood in the teleological realm–this conceptual dualism employed purely pragmatically to better understand phenomenon we observe, does not imply supernatural bullshit. I thing natural scientist-empiricist-secularist-monist-positivist types are afraid to grant the coherence of such concepts and self-ownership and the person as distinct from the body and the mind as distinct from the brain because they are too lazy, confused, misled, or stupid to figure out a dualistic philosophy to help them understand this and they are leery of ceding the ground to supernaturalism. But that’s *their* problem. I see no need to artificially hamper my own conceptual framework to understand the world and human life, just because they are self-hobbling secular state-worshipping scientistic logical positivist confusoids.


“My main question is, do you think Hoppe’s argument depends on this distinction?”


As should be clear from my response above, no, but I think that dualism is obviously true and conceptually convenient and it’s therefore needlessly circuitous and pointless and awkward and boring to try to avoid using proper and distinct concepts and terms, to force it all into a reductionist, materialist, monist perspective, though it can be done I suppose as noted above. But why would one want to?

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • dave January 29, 2022, 5:57 pm

    Framing things as an explanation of “what is mine” confuses things. My wife is mine, but I don’t own her. The “mine” of possession, the “mine” of legal ownership, the “mine” of authorship, the “mine” of other relationships like having a spouse, these are all distinct, and so saying something about who controls my body says nothing about who must own it legally, or what the legal system must declare about it. Formal legal property is a social mechanism, not a logical syllogism or physical necessity. Maybe we know enough from history to make confident predictions about it, and maybe not. Arrangements where I don’t own my body are logically coherent, they are just not libertarian.

    If having control of a body created the best objective link and hence ownership of that body, animals could not be owned. (This also undermines the way we often think about imprisonment of criminals, although there might be ways of getting around that.) So in the case of ordinary humans, the best objective link is one thing, for animals and criminals it is another. Maybe that can be explained, but I don’t think I have seen the explanation.

    It is clear why such criteria cannot be purely subjective – everyone must be able to observe the boundary or evidence, so that they can avoid violating others’ property rights and so at least most potential disputes can be resolved. But if that is the reason, then intersubjective criteria might also suffice, in addition to or as an alternative to objective criteria. If “everyone knows and agrees” who owns something before anyone uses it, why would that be insufficient?

    Speaking of the best objective link leads immediately to the question, best according to what standard? Why should we all agree to that standard? Is it unique? A Schelling point? Can we determine what will help us to avoid conflict best from our armchairs, or do we need some experimental data to help us arrive at confident conclusions? I know which way I am betting, but if someone else wants to perform some experiments (while leaving out those who don’t volunteer), I am fine with that. Of course, critics of property usually don’t embrace experimental ethics (where only fully informed volunteers participate in ethical experiments).

    This all leads back to discussions of inalienability of body ownership, but this comment is already too long.

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