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I think the answer to my question is going to be epistemology in nature.

The source of this question stems from the statement (person A) "Show me where consent is violated and I will show you the need for a government."

A response (person B) to this was "Consent is subjective. Laws must be objective."

Some back and forth banter and then this from person B:

BTW: I shared this conversation with Craig Biddle (editor of The Objective Standard). Here is his comment:

"The very purpose of rights is to protect the individual's freedom to live his life and act on his judgment; so the notion of a right to sign away one's right to live and act on one's judgment is a contradiction in terms. If, however, a person wants to consistently pretend that he is someone's slave, he is properly free to do so, as long as he doesn't violate anyone's rights in the process.

The only way your adversary is going to understand this is if he understands the actual source, purpose, and nature of rights."


Hence my question on why is it a contradiction in terms. The answer to this question may be useful in answering the following currently unanswered question.

I'm also unclear on what Craig means by "he is properly free to do so." Does this means that his "master" can beat him with immunity from the law for the duration of the self-imposed slavery?

asked Jan 10 '13 at 01:17

Humbug's gravatar image

Humbug
5181285

edited Jan 10 '13 at 01:19

Consent can be objective or subjective. Subjective consent would be when the person wishes for something to happen. Objective consent would be when the person's actions or words objectively manifest such a desire.

If someone says "yes" when they mean "no" (and there is no indication that they are lying, kidding, incompetent, etc.), then you have objective consent, even though you don't have subjective consent.

A law which required subjective consent (say, for sex) would be a non-objective law. You can't read minds, so you wouldn't know clearly, in advance, whether or not you had consent.

(Jan 10 '13 at 07:04) anthony anthony's gravatar image
2

A right is "a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context". You can't literally "sign away" moral principles. That would be like signing away the law of gravity. What you can do, is transfer property, give consent, and/or assume a risk. The term "signing away your rights" might be used figuratively as a way to describe one or more of those things.

(Jan 10 '13 at 07:05) anthony anthony's gravatar image

As for the game of slave and master, the person pretending to be the slave would have to be able to withdraw consent at any time, regardless of whether or not a signed writing indicated otherwise.

(Jan 10 '13 at 07:27) anthony anthony's gravatar image

The act of signing away your rights would in itself be considered a right as your rights can be viewed as property under your control. However the act of signing away your rights results in an entity void of rights. If an entity is void of rights then that includes there being no right to 'sign away your rights' as the signing and loss of rights occurs in the same instant and the same action, namely, the 'signing' away of your rights. This I believe is what gives rise to the contradiction, hope it wasn't too confusing. I would be glad to explain further.

(Jan 23 '13 at 17:21) John Galt John%20Galt's gravatar image

Would it be more accurate to say that one is signing away one's right to sue for violation of certain rights?

(Jan 27 '13 at 20:24) Louise Louise's gravatar image

I don't think so. What situation would you consider to be signing away your right to sue for the violation of your rights?

If you give consent ("you may punch me in the face" or "you may copy my copyrighted work"), or assume a risk ("I understand that horseback riding is dangerous and won't sue you if something goes wrong"), then there isn't a violation of your rights in the first place.

If there is a violation of your rights, then the "signing away" isn't [or shouldn't be] valid (e.g. after signing the horse riding waiver the horse owner intentionally causes something to go wrong).

(Jan 27 '13 at 22:02) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I found this

http://www.peikoff.com/tag/rights/page/239/#list

(Apr 12 '15 at 00:43) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

@John Galt, I am hesitant to refer to individual rights as your "property". When we speak about someone "having a right to liberty", we really mean that there is a moral principle called the 'right to liberty', and this principle applies to this person. However, we do not mean that the person personally owns this moral principle, literally or figuratively (how could he?). In most usages, it is fine to say someone "has" such-and-such right, because this usage does not change the outcome. But occasionally, as here, we must be strict in remembering the nature of rights as moral principles.

(May 14 '15 at 12:14) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

Thus, the question about "signing away your rights", is more properly phrased as follows: can a person voluntarily remove themselves from the scope of the principles of individual rights? Or, to put it slightly differently: can a person render the principles of individual rights inapplicable to themselves by executing a contract?

An issue to consider in this regard is why the government protects rights in the first place. Obviously, the person whose right is being protected benefits, but that is not all--everyone else benefits by the enforcement of rights as well. Thus, we ...

(May 14 '15 at 12:19) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

often criminally prosecute certain rights violations even when the person whose rights were violated does not care (or actively opposes the prosecution), because the rights-violator poses a threat to everyone, not just their most recent victim. With that in mind, ask yourself whether a proper government could sit by an allow a person to be enslaved without acting to prosecute the slaver? Even if the slave does not care (and voluntarily put himself in the position), everyone else has an interest in ensuring that rights violators such as the slaver are punished.

(May 14 '15 at 12:23) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

Now things get interesting when you consider whether there is any rights violation going on in the first place. Consent is one way that one can often change a rights-violating action into a non-rights violating action. Thus, the question is whether the purported slave has (and/or even can) consented to everything that is being done to him, and if so whether that consent is operative to make the slaver's actions not rights violations. If the slaver's actions are not rights violations, then he should not be prosecuted.

(May 14 '15 at 12:27) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

I am not prepared, however, to weigh in on whether the contract purporting to "sign away his rights" actually does constitute consent, whether one even can consent to unlimited physical force, or whether such consent is operative to make an otherwise rights violating action not rights violating.

However, my point is that even if we assume the "slave's" consent makes the slaver's actions not rights violating, the reason the slaver is not prosecuted is because no rights violation occurred, not because the slave "signed away his rights"-the principle of rights still applies to the slave.

(May 14 '15 at 12:32) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image
showing 2 of 12 show all

I find this question vague and confusing due to lack of sufficient context. My comments below indicate what additional context I see as being needed, as well as my analysis of the key points expressed in the question.

Why is signing away your rights a contradiction in terms?

What does "signing away your rights" mean? What rights is one "signing away," and in return for what? Why would one want to "sign away one's rights"?

[Person 'A' says:] "Show me where consent is violated and I will show you the need for a government."

Why is person 'A' responding in this manner to the question about signing away one's rights? What does he see as the connection to consent and the need for a government? Consent by whom and for what? In Objectivism, man's need for a government derives from far more than consent. Consent arises as one element in the concept of physical force. It is the issue of physical force that most essentially leads to the need for a government.

A response (person B) to this was "Consent is subjective. Laws must be objective."

Person 'B' evidently considers consent to be a non-objective criterion. Objectivism disagrees. Consent (deprivation thereof) is an essential and objective element of physical force, which is the most fundamental reason why man needs a government (in the Objectivist view). Also, Person 'B' seems to be taking the need for laws to be objective as more fundamental than the need for government at all, and more fundamental than the issue of physical force in regard to the need for a government. But objective law is not the primary here; objective law is merely a very important element in the implementation of a proper government. The need for government, and the basic nature of a proper government, are issues that arise prior to considerations of objective or non-objective laws.

Also, if 'A' is arguing in favor of having a government and some connection between government and consent (other than the traditional "consent of the governed"), and if 'B' is arguing in favor of objective law, then what are they disagreeing about? They both seem to be more or less in favor of individual rights, as far as can be determined from this very limited context. Is one (or both) of them actually a libertarian arguing for "competing governments"?

Some back and forth banter....

What the question classifies as non-essential "banter" may actually be highly significant and relevant to an understanding of the issues that persons 'A' and 'B' are trying to discuss. Without that additional context, it become far more difficult for readers to imagine what the actual issues under discussion really were.

... then this from person B:

BTW: I shared this conversation with Craig Biddle (editor of The Objective Standard). Here is his comment....

Evidently this discussion was taking place in email or some texting forum, so there is no reference to exactly where Craig allegedly said what is attributed to him, no "trail" that independent readers can check firsthand to verify that Craig actually said exactly what the question says that Person 'B' said that Craig said. So we have no way independently to validate the authenticity, accuracy and completeness of the formulations attributed to Craig.

[Craig's statement:] "The very purpose of rights is to protect the individual's freedom to live his life and act on his judgment.... The only way your adversary ['A'] is going to understand this is if he understands the actual source, purpose, and nature of rights."

This formulation appears to be talking about basic individual rights such as Ayn Rand describes and explains in her article, "Man's Rights" and elsewhere. Refer to the topic of "Individual Rights" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. Such rights are inalienable, meaning that one can't "sign them away." One can sign a document; one can act as if one intends to abide by the terms of the document; but if either party ever fails to do so, the law will not uphold the contract. The contract will be unenforceable, as if no contract ever existed in the eyes of the law. (In the common law and textbook materials, there are major discussions and case histories on void contracts, voidable contracts, unenforceable contracts, and "consideration" as a requirement for valid contracts.)

On the other hand, we often speak of "rights" to property, the right of free speech, and so on, which we routinely curtail in various kinds of legally valid, enforceable contracts. A writer, for example, may agree to certain restrictions about what he can say publicly about a movie version of his work, in return for payment from the studio for the "movie rights" to his work. He won't be thrown in jail if he violates the contract; he'll just pay a hefty financial penalty in accord with the terms of the contract. If that is what is meant by "signing away one's rights," then I don't see it as raising any issue about the enforceability of the contract.

[Craig's statement, continued:] ... so the notion of a right to sign away one's right to live and act on one's judgment is a contradiction in terms.

If this refers to the right to life, signing it away contradicts the principle of individual rights as inalienable. The contradiction would mean that one no longer has any rights because one "signed them away," but still has the right to enter into a contract that is enforceable by courts of law. One cannot have a right to make contracts if one has no rights at all. (Some may argue about the time factor here, i.e., at time 1 one has rights but signs a contract to forfeit them; then at later time 2 one no longer has rights. I don't think the quoted view of "contradiction" considers such a time factor.)

[Craig, continued:] If, however, a person wants to consistently pretend that he is someone's slave, he is properly free to do so, as long as he doesn't violate anyone's rights in the process.

"Pretend" here means acting as if a contract to sign away one's rights is valid and enforceable, and endeavoring to abide by its terms. It's only "pretend" because such a contract is not, in fact, valid or enforceable. Also, someone abiding by such a contract presumably does so voluntarily, by his consent, so he isn't a victim of physical force. But the moment his "master" goes too far, exceeding whatever degree of physical contact the victim may be consenting to, the victim can withdraw from further participation in the so-called "contract" and perhaps even sue for damages. "Exceeding the scope of consent" isn't limited to contracts; it applies to any consensual human conduct.

The main question continues:

The answer to this question may be useful in answering the following currently unanswered question.

This links to a past question about Indentured Servitude. That question, too, is somewhat vague as to exactly what is meant by "indentured servitude," i.e., whether it is basically just an extended employment contract for wages (or debt repayment) and room and board, or more like a form of temporary slavery, with physical punishments meted out by the "master." The Wikipedia article on "Indentured servant" provides further background. (See also "Unenforceable" and "Involuntary servitude" on Wikipedia.) The analysis of indentured servitude will depend on the full context and details of what the question means by it. In the U.S. since the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed, most forms of involuntary servitude have been prohibited in the U.S., except as punishment for crimes. I'm not aware of any major Objectivist criticisms of the prohibition on involuntary servitude.

It should perhaps be emphasized again that applications of philosophical principles in fields like law depend on additional study of actual cases, as well as the deductive implications of the philosophical principles. It is rarely possible to extend deductions from philosophy a priori (i.e., in advance) to all possible details of concrete facts and cases, and there may be optional areas where more than one valid application of the same principles is possible. Philosophy cannot be a substitute for the special sciences. Philosophy can only provide broad, overall guidance, general guidelines within which many variations and options remain possible.

answered Feb 03 '13 at 15:04

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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edited May 16 '15 at 10:51

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Asked: Jan 10 '13 at 01:17

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Last updated: May 16 '15 at 10:51