Posted by: captainfalcon | January 26, 2010

Again Down the Rabbit Hole

It may not be worth thoroughly polluting the mind to achieve, but it would be fun to have a mastery of Objectivist slogans and a facility with the inference rules that govern them.[1] You’d arrive at all sorts of surprising places:

Thus, it may be that marginal humans possess certain rights as potential traders, but animals do not because they are not potential traders.

One might counter that a person does trade with his pets, if not with all animals. And certainly it is true that my wife and I give our cats food, shelter, and love, and we get much affection and enjoyment in return. That is precisely why we have cats. But trade is a voluntary exchange of values, and it is only the need for the exchange to be voluntary that gives rise to rights. We respect the rights of other people because that is the way in which we optimize what they will have to offer us in trade. Obviously, the value that my wife and I get from our cats does not come from a mutually voluntary exchange between the cats and us. In fact, the pleasure that we derive and that the cats derive comes about only because we have compelled them to live with us and to interact with us. Letting our cats go where they wished and do what they wished would not optimize what they have to offer us. And the same is true for marginal human beings. The tremendous exchange of love that takes place between parent and infant, or between a normal sibling and a severely retarded sibling, is not the basis for such rights as children and the retarded may have—because the exchange is not voluntary. If marginal human beings are to be accorded some subset of rights, it must be on the basis of their potential for voluntary exchange.

Pretty clumsy. The only thing subtle about it, in fact, is (some of) the ways in which it is very very wrong. There’s the obvious stuff – (a) human rights are not grounded in our being possibly willing to sell you shit, (b) it’s pretty cold to keep cats simply because they lavish you with affection, (c) the probable implication of his view is that we can slaughter infants and hermits, (d) does he really have a retard-slave? (“Letting our cats go where they wished and do what they wished would not optimize what they have to offer us. And the same is true for marginal human beings”) – but there are also some Easter Eggs: “In fact, the pleasure that we derive and that the cats derive comes about only because we have compelled them to live with us and to interact with us.” What a curious blend of narcissism and humility.

[1] Sometimes Objectivists reason validly from obviously false premises. But often they make inferences unlicensed by any logical system I’m familiar with. One (mediocre – but it works) example from the same essay: “We have rights because, to pursue life in society by means of reason (which is how one best lives), an individual needs freedom for action and therefore freedom from force.”

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