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Which of the following statements is more accurate or cognitively useful:

(1) There is only one way to violate rights—initiating physical force (but fraud is an indirect initiation of physical force).

(2) There are two ways to violate rights—initiating physical force or fraud.

Note that I don’t need to be convinced that fraud is a violation of rights. I am asking whether it is really useful to try to shoe-horn fraud into physical force. What is so wrong with identifying two ways that rights can be violated? I've noticed that we generally end up following statement (2) anyway when we first try to explain violation of rights to people new to objectivism, and it is only when we get “technical” that we try to show how fraud is really physical force. (Listen to any objectivist speech tailored to a non-objectivist audience, e.g., Yaron's speeches--you will almost always hear "force or fraud" as the description of how to violate rights.)

asked Feb 04 '12 at 22:39

ericmaughan43's gravatar image

ericmaughan43 ♦
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edited Feb 04 '12 at 22:39

It is extremely useful to conceptualize "fraud" as an instance of "physical force".

"Integration is the essential part of understanding." Understanding how theft via physical taking and theft via fraud (and theft via patent/copyright infringement) are the same thing, initiations of physical force, is crucial to understanding the context of the principle that no man may initiate the use of physical force. Without such understanding you get the Libertarian Party.

As for your two statements, either of them is more accurate/useful than the other - in the proper context.

(Feb 05 '12 at 09:38) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Leonard Peikoff develops this in this Objectivism by Induction course as well as his writings of OPAR.

A thumbnail sketch would start with the mind has a nature by which it grasps reality and selects values according to its ability to exercise its free judgment.

In this case of physical force, be it a gun, or a bully that threatens with direct physical confrontation, you are asked to surrender the judgment of your own mind and substitute it with the judgment of the thug or the bully. Barring the choice to defend your rights, (which is still a situation forced upon you by the context), your mind is not free to process the cognitive data, rather to surrender the value demanded by the thug or bully.

In the case of fraud, the similarity exists in the data given to process. Information provided by the con-man is used to establish the context for your decision. The con-man tries to create a context of information to have you conclude a decision other than the one you would choose in dealing with reality where the made-up "facts" you were presented with would not exist. By positing a scenario which precludes the mark from freely being able to investigate the claims, the con-man is preventing the mark from freely exercising the judgment of his own mind, and substituting it instead with the judgments provided by the con-man intended to elicit the outcome desired.

While both cases do surrender the judgment of the victim's mind, physical force presents itself in a way that the victim is cognitively aware of it. Fraud is a case of deception where the victim is not cognitive of its use until after the damage has been wrought.

answered Feb 05 '12 at 11:42

dream_weaver's gravatar image

dream_weaver ♦
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edited Feb 07 '12 at 19:58

I completely agree--indeed, that is kinda my point. My understanding is that what makes something a rights violation is the fact that it paralyzes the victim's mind, making it impossible for him to act on his rational judgements. Physical force does this and fraud does this, as you point out. They most definitely are related concepts. They both violate rights. But does that mean they are the same thing?

(Feb 06 '12 at 10:24) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

To answer this question, you really need to know what physical force is.

"Force" in "physical force" is compulsion.

But what does "physical" mean, then? Does it mean that the means of compulsion is always physical contact? If so, then pointing a loaded gun at a man is not an instance of physical force.

I think, instead, that "physical" denotes the nature of the effect that the force causes. Physical force compels a man to a physical action, bypassing his consent about it. Think slavery.

Note that there's no such phrase in Objectivism as mental force. A mind cannot be forced. But a man's physical actions can be forced.

For example:

A punch in the face forces a man to bleed and bruise, and to endure pain.

Incarceration forces a man to stay in one place.

Rape forces a woman to endure sexual molestation, and potential pregnancy.

Threat of physical harm forces a man to live at another man's permission.

Theft forces a man to surrender his belongings, or to physically chase down the thief.

Fraud is no different from theft, except it involves deception in communication (common thievery also involves deception, in the form of hiding, rather than a scam).

All physical force forces the victim to physically do something.

Yes, the phrase "physical force" isn't perfect. It's actually a bit like "laissez-faire capitalism" or "rational selfishness". The word "physical" is a bit redundant (like "laissez-faire" or "rational"), since there is no such thing as "mental force".

Do not think that because the word "physical" is there, that "physical force" requires physical contact. The word "physical" is present to emphasize that a man's physical actions are dictated by a second party, while his mental actions cannot be (force can only achieve mental inaction).

answered Feb 05 '12 at 15:47

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦
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I'm not sure I am okay with reading the "physical" in "physical force" as baring on the nature of the response in the victim (e.g., physical action vs. thought). It just seems so strained to me, like we are grasping at straws to try to fit facts into a formulation rather than the formulation to fit the facts. The natural reading of "physical force" seems to be that "physical" explains the nature of the force.

Now, I totally agree with you that actual physical contact with the victim is not required for force to be physical (you have provided some excellent answers on that point previously)

(Feb 06 '12 at 10:10) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

But my understanding is that in that case we are dealing with the threat of physical force.

It is true that "Physical force compels a man to a physical action, bypassing his consent about it," but is that an attribute of physical force or a definition?

What about compulsion through psychological pressure? Is that physical force? It has always been ruled out by Objectivists in the past because it is not "physical," but if the effect in the victim is the touchstone of physicality, it seems like it should come in.

(Feb 06 '12 at 10:18) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

Yes, Eric. You are right. I'm shaky on why "physical force" has the word "physical" in it. How is, then, the threat of physical force an instance of physical force?

Also, I don't deign to define what physical force is, except ostensively.

I do know, though, that identifying physical force requires more than perceptual observation. My basic guideline is that physical force is when you take another man's life into your own hands. So, theft is only physical force because property is a man's means of living. But property as such cannot be perceptually identified.

(Feb 06 '12 at 20:51) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

"How is, then, the threat of physical force an instance of physical force?"

The phrase is initiating physical force.

(Feb 08 '12 at 07:09) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Ok. . . How is, then, the threat of physical force an instance (i.e. case) of the initiation of physical force?

I can come up with short catch phrases like: "Physical force is when a person is physically preventing you from living your life," but I'm still blurry on how physical force can exist without physical contact. I guess that theft is an instance of physically taking my property, and since my property is a physical extension of myself, that theft can be construed as physical force against me. And fraud is just another variation of theft.

(Feb 08 '12 at 18:56) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

So I get theft and fraud. Now how about a "gun in your face"? The "physical agency" here is the gun, and its inherent ability to easily injure or kill. The gun is properly construed as a threat.

So the question reduces to: how is a threat physical? A threat is an instance of potential physical harm. But it's not actual physical harm. Hmm.

(Feb 08 '12 at 19:02) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John - isn't a threat just that; a threat? I think "actual" vs. "potential" physical harm is a red herring. What is the intention of the threat? To take your property against your will, or to coerce you against your will (PHYSICALLY, you can't force a mind). To deprive you of values which are legitimately yours, against your will. To bring about a situation where you are unable to insist on your legitimate rights.

(Feb 08 '12 at 19:16) FCH FCH's gravatar image
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The question and some of the responses ask, in part, how fraud is "physical," as in physical force. The question goes on to suggest that the connection is merely a "useful conceptualization" (i.e., a connection by non-essentials). "I am asking whether it is really useful to try to shoe-horn fraud into physical force." "Useful to try to shoe-horn" means convenient or expedient to connect by non-essentials. Objectivism classifies that approach to conceptualization as a major logical fallacy, the fallacy of definition by non-essentials, leading to the creation and/or perpetuation of "package deals."

The entry on "Fraud" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon describes fraud and unilateral breach of contract as follows:

A unilateral breach of contract involves an indirect use of physical force: it consists, in essence, of one man receiving the material values, goods or services of another, then refusing to pay for them and thus keeping them by force (by mere physical possession), not by right -- i.e., keeping them without the consent of their owner. Fraud involves a similarly indirect use of force: it consists of obtaining material values without their owner's consent, under false pretenses or false promises [and then keeping them in one's physical possession, which is the element of "physical" that makes fraud a form of physical force].

The connection of fraud to other forms of physical force thus rests on the essential distinguishing characteristics of each, with recognition of the objectively observable distinction between direct and indirect physical force.

There is additional discussion of indirect physical force in OPAR, Chap. 8 ("Virtue"), in the section titled, "The Initiation of Physical Force as Evil." Early in that section, OPAR describes physical force as "coercion exercised by physical agency...." Coercion, in turn, is a very broad concept that encompasses lack of consent for something one is induced or compelled to do, or to refrain from doing, or for material values destroyed or seized. In less direct forms of physical force, the values involved in the coercion need not be material values. Civil liability for slander or libel is an example involving non-material values. Coercion, in short, refers to value deprivation and lack of consent (and "rightful entitlement" to the values one is being deprived of, as in any form of physical force against one's property).

In order to be physical force, the force must be exercised by physical agency of some kind, such as a fist, a gun, a club, spoken or written words (including shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater in order to induce a panic), and so on. The force involved need not actually make physical contact; the mere threat of bodily harm (or harm to one's property or loved ones) is sufficient, as in pointing a gun at someone under circumstances in which the victim reasonably believes the gun or other weapon is capable of causing harm, and the attacker capable of doing such harm (without the victim's consent). A threat backed by a weapon or fist constitutes "physical agency."

OPAR also mentions, "The task of defining the many forms of physical force, direct and indirect, including all the variants of breach of contract, belongs to the field of law." (pp. 319-320)

answered Feb 08 '12 at 01:13

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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Asked: Feb 04 '12 at 22:39

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Last updated: Feb 08 '12 at 19:16