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According to Ayn Rand, physical force is the only means of violating man's rights. Extortion, fraud, and unilateral breach of contract are given as examples of "indirect" physical force. [citation: Ayn Rand Lexicon] Although she does not state this, I presume violating patent or copyright rights would be additional examples of initiating "indirect" physical force.

My question is, how can we define physical force? For me, it seems like the difficult part is defining it in such a way that "indirect physical force" is a valid concept.

One hypothesis: "Physical force consists of violating rights." (Then, "direct" physical force applies to material property; "indirect" physical force applies to intellectual property.) Unfortunately, I think this is invalid: what about retaliatory force, or force occuring outside of a context of rights (e.g. between two animals)? Also, this would make Ayn Rand's statement that physical force is the only way to violate rights a truism (or maybe it would just make the statement "true"...)

Second hypothesis (iterating on the previous hypothesis): Perhaps physical force consists of infringing upon someone's possessions (not necessarily rightful possessions, i.e., property as recognized by property rights). For example, taking a rocket launcher away from Saddam Hussein would be use of physical force, since he posssess it, even if he does not possess it rightly. Killing a chicken is using physical force, since it possess its body. Indirect physical force consists of infringing upon someone's "intellectual possessions", which actually is equivalent to "intellectual property" since you can't "possess" something intellectually unless intellectual property rights are recongnized.

I don't see anything wrong with the second hypothesis but would greatly appreciate any feedback!

asked Jan 10 '11 at 12:46

javert's gravatar image

javert ♦

edited Jan 10 '11 at 19:04

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Physical force is an action by a man that utilizes the laws of nature, unobstructed by anyone else's choice, to affect another.

(Jan 10 '11 at 21:05) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

dreadrocksean: The fact that my leaving this comment is "affecting" you, but is not an instance of physical force, is a counterexample to your proposed definition.

(Jan 10 '11 at 21:15) javert ♦ javert's gravatar image

I do apologize for the vagueness of the word 'affect'. I meant 'physically affect'. Good call.

(Jan 11 '11 at 01:49) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image
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Physical force doesn't need a social or political definition. It is what physics regards as physical force. That includes magnetic fields and ray-guns and poisonous clouds of gas and sound-rays and fists and bullets. When the actions of one person, via such as these things, injures another's person or property, a violation of rights has occurred.

Indirect physical force involves holding something by physical force though it was taken into possession by (non-physical) fraud, etc. It is the possession and disposition of another's property that constitutes the physical element. It is indirect because the perp didn't wrest it out of the owner's hands, but tricked him out of it.

answered Jan 10 '11 at 21:45

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦

edited Jan 10 '11 at 23:01

Mindy you are perfectly correct. Please join my squad team. I have been thinking a lot about his over the past year. The physical element extends a little beyond your explanation though. If I hate my roommate and I wire the living room so that when the light is turned on on entry, the room blows up, then what? Was physical force used? I have perfect right to my apartment and perfect right to blow myself up. Choice was taken away from my roommate as it is a habit to turn on a light at shoulder height on the wall next to the front door when entering the dark living room of your apartment.

(Jan 11 '11 at 01:50) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

As opposed to, 'Hey jimmy, here's a gun. Go shoot my roommate.' Jimmy has choice.

(Jan 11 '11 at 01:50) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

I'm still giving this some thought, but I want to point out that philosophy doesn't rely on the discoveries of specialized sciences, like physics. I don't know the precise definition of "force" used in physics, but I shouldn't have to, as someone who is doing philosophy. There doesn't necessarily need to be a social or political definition of force, whatever that means---but there needs to be one for philosophy. It may be that the proper philosophical definition is way more simple than what I was proposing, though, and more akin to the definition from physics.

(Jan 11 '11 at 10:30) javert ♦ javert's gravatar image

"I don't know the precise definition of "force" used in physics, but I shouldn't have to, as someone who is doing philosophy." --javert. Philosophy must accommodate all facts and all specialized knowledge. You don't need to know how physicists choose, precisely, to define "force," but you need to know what they are referring to by the term. I could as well have said that physical force, in this context, is just what a mechanical engineer means by it.

(Jan 11 '11 at 17:13) Mindy Newton ♦ Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy: Philosophy does not rest on discoveries in any specialized science. Thus, a proper philosophical definition will not reference discoveries from the specialized sciences.

Your claim amounts to the statement that shaking someone's hand (for example) is an initiation of physical force.

(Jan 11 '11 at 18:15) javert ♦ javert's gravatar image

Mindy: I made my essential point in response to your last comment in my last commend, but here is some elaboration.

(1) Philosophy "automatically" accomodates specialized knowledge and facts discovered by specialized sciences because it is in accordance with reality.

(2) No, I don't need to know what physicists are referring to by the term "force." I need to know what philosophers are referring to by the term "physical force."

(Jan 11 '11 at 18:19) javert ♦ javert's gravatar image

It is an act of physical force. It is not an injury. That is the important part. As far as initiation goes, though, handshaking happens to require consent from both parties.

(Jan 11 '11 at 18:27) Mindy Newton ♦ Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image
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Asked: Jan 10 '11 at 12:46

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Last updated: Jan 11 '11 at 18:27