Do Objectivists see any limits to the actions of a person with his private property ? Are there any limits of what one can do with one's own property?
Here are some "thought experiments" that perhaps better characterize the question:
Can a man who owns large tracts of land in a rain forest ethically create a parking lot from the forest if it pleases him to so so? In doing so, he would be forestalling any discoveries that may have been made from the rain forest flora and fauna (they're now extinct for future scientists). He'd also be destroying old growth trees that the planet would not realistically be able to replace in several lifetimes (maybe this is just a "prettiness" issue but it is a permanent alteration). Is there anything he owes anyone else on the planet ? If not, I guess if the tracts were vast enough and the destruction thorough enough, he could actually impact many, many people negatively through flooding, destruction of food chains etc. The question is: are his actions ethical?
Does a guy who buys a lake teeming with fish which has fed several villages for years (the previous owners let the villagers fish there) have all the right to render the lake sterile if he so chooses (perhaps because he prefers the nice blue color of a dead lake from his bedroom window) ? Does he owe the villagers who have lived in the area anything? If they now have to become refugees for food/water, does he bear any responsibility?
I ask these admittedly extreme questions because I am interested in the limits that Objectivism would see to property rights (if any). In the case where one pollutes some one else's property, I think matters are pretty clear: one would be sued in a court and made to pay the aggrieved party some restitution.
In the case where a large property owner does things that indirectly cause harm (perhaps much later) is unclear to me. Clearly nature does not recognize human property rights: animals, plants and habitats certainly do not. Yet these animals, plants and habitats do depend on each other and what happens to one part of the ecological web does ripple through it --if you kill the plankton in one part of the sea, you do affect whales in another. Man does actually depend on the existence of animals, plants and habitats but the dependency is unclear to many. How does Objectivism see this issue as far as property rights go ? I do not really know the Objectivist position on ecology, so if this is an answered question somewhere, I'd appreciate a pointer.
I am not yet sure where I stand on this (thus the question) but I do know that I geratly prefer the United States with its huge abundance of (sometimes governmentally, sometimes privately) protected wildernesses to, say, China where every square inch bears the mark of man: development, cultivation, factories etc. Having experienced both, it is clear which one is preferable (at least to me).
asked Jul 17 '11 at 21:04
Under a proper (laissez-faire capitalist) system, the limit is that a person may not use his property in a manner that violates the rights of others. And that is all.
The details of what constitutes a violation of rights belong to the specialized field of law. In other words, the answers to many of your hypothetical situations cannot be dictated from philosophy, which deals with the most general principles of right and wrong.
One Objectivist principle is clearly relevant here, however. The government's use of force must be only for the protection of individual rights. This means actual, identifiable people; neither groups qua collectives nor animals nor nature in general have rights. And the rights of people mean the rights of every person to his life, his liberty, and any property he has earned. There is no right for any person to have the world be a certain way according to his preferences. Such a notion would require the government to violate others' property rights, as it is already doing at the behest of the environmentalists.
If people under a capitalist system value having undisturbed wilderness, then no one will stop them from purchasing (or pooling resources together to purchase) land for such a purpose.
answered Jul 17 '11 at 21:52
Andrew Dalton ♦