Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Lecture 6 with David Gordon - Mises Academy


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Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Lecture 6 with David Gordon - Mises Academy

  1. 1. Ayn Rand Lecture 6 Intellectual Property, Foreign Policy, and the Morality of War
  2. 2. Faking Reality ●Last time, we were discussing the Objectivist view that it is always in your interest to respect the rights of others, except for emergency situations. ●We raised the objection that sometimes it seems that you could benefit by violating the rights of others, as in John Hospers’ bank embezzler case. Someone mentioned the Objectivist response that the embezzler is living a lie, or faking reality.
  3. 3. Faking Reality Continued ●It’s clearly in your own interest to have a correct perception of reality, at least usually. ●Nozick gives some cases where this may not be true, e.g., someone who does better than otherwise because he overrates his own ability. ●But let’s assume that the bank embezzler is not one of these exceptions.
  4. 4. Still More Fakery ●It’s in the interest of the embezzler to be aware that he has stolen money. It’s also in the interest of others that they be aware of his crime---the owners of the bank would certainly like to know about it. ●But why is in the interest of the embezzler to assist others to a better perception of reality, when this would have bad consequences for him? That is just the question of the harmony of interests, which is what is up for discussion. The Objectivist response begs the
  5. 5. Intellectual Property ●Rand strongly supported patents and copyrights. ●Property rights arise from your freedom of action. Each person creates values, i.e., things he acts to gain or keep. ●In the case of ideas, she thinks that because an inventor has come up with a new idea, he has created it. This give him a property right in it.
  6. 6. Reply to an Objection ●You might immediately object that only physical objects can be owned, not ideas. ●Rand did not deny this. She thought that an patent must apply to a physical device. Similarly, a copyright applies to a physical object, a book or article. ●If you hold a patent, you couldn’t forbid others from talking about what you had invented---- the prohibition applies only to making copies of the physical device.
  7. 7. An Ambiguity in “Value” ●Note that she uses “value” in a different way from that customary in Austrian economics. ●A value, for her is an object—something you act to gain or keep. It isn’t a subjective judgment of where something ranks in your preference scale.
  8. 8. Invention versus Discovery ●Rand made a sharp distinction between inventions and discoveries. You can’t patent a law of nature or something that is “out there” to be found out. For Rand, new concepts are abstractions from perception. You don’t create a physical law; you discover it.Once more, her theory of concepts has primary importance. ●On the other hand, an inventor does bring into existence a physical object that wouldn’t have existed without his action.
  9. 9. Problems with this Distinction ●I’m not sure that this distinction is a good one. What you have a right to if you own a patent is not just a physical object, but the power to prevent others from building an object that embodies your idea. But isn’t your idea also based on abstraction from perception? ●If you can prevent others from copying your idea, why can’t discoverers of new ideas prevent others from using “their” discoveries?
  10. 10. Is There a Right to Intellectual Property? ●It isn’t clear how Rand’s argument for patents and copyrights is supposed to proceed. ●Suppose that an inventor does create his new idea, in the way she suggests. Why does it follow that other people should be prohibited from using his idea, without his permission?
  11. 11. Problems with Rand’s Argument ●It might be in the inventor’s interest that others not be allowed to use his idea without his permission; but why do other people have a moral obligation to do what is in the inventor’s interest? This is an instance of a general problem for the Objectivist theory of rights. ●Is patent protection in the inventor’s interest? Rothbard,(MES) Boldrin and Levine, (Against Intellectual Monopoly) have challenged this.
  12. 12. More Problems ●Rand thinks that patent protection should extend only for a certain number of years, not forever. This limit takes account of the fact that often, many people are working on a new invention at the same time. Also, people need to do productive work and perpetual patents would encourage parasitism. But even if this is true, why should it limit the inventor’s rights, if he has a genuine right? Rand seems asking, what would be good for the inventor, rather than what he has a right to, in a way
  13. 13. Foreign Policy ●Rand did not write a great deal on foreign policy. Before Pearl Harbor, she was a non- interventionist, like most of those on the Old Right. ●After WWII, Rand supported the Cold War and was pro-Israel on the Mideast; but foreign policy wasn’t her specialty. ●Some of her followers, e.g., Leonard Peikoff and Yaron Brook, have had more to say on the topic.
  14. 14. A Rational Egoist Foreign Policy ●One of the most important statements of Objectivist foreign policy is in C. Bradley Thompson with Yaron Brook, Neoconservatism: An Obituary for An Idea. ●The thesis defended in that book is just as an individual should live by the morality of rational egoism, a nation
  15. 15. Details of a Rational Egoist FP ●Does this prescription for foreign policy commit a collectivist fallacy? It makes sense for an individual to defend himself against attempts by others to violate his rights, but can we talk about a nation’s defending itself in the same way? ●The Objectivists could respond that they are just talking about the rights of a group of individuals. They aren’t assuming that nations exist in some further, collectivist sense.
  16. 16. Against the Neocons ●The Objectivists have a well-deserved reputation for supporting an aggressive foreign policy, but they have some important criticisms of the neoconservatives. ●The neocons think that we should support democratic revolutions all over the world. Objectivists condemn this as altruism. We have no moral obligation to promote democracy or human rights in other countries.
  17. 17. Criticism of Democratic Peace Theory ●Neocons might respond that their policy isn’t altruistic. Democratic nations don’t go to war with each other, so it is in America’s interest to promote democratic regimes. ●It isn’t the case that democracies don’t go to war with each other, E.g., the elected Hamas government is certainly at war with Israel. Also, democracy just means majority rule: democracy isn’t desirable unless the government is properly limited.
  18. 18. Threats and Objectivist Foreign Policy ●If Objectivists reject neocon foreign policy, in what way is their own foreign policy aggressive? Isn’t defending yourself against threats defensive, not aggressive? ●The problem here is that once a nation thinks that it is under threat, then it can do anything it thinks needed to repel the threat. E.g., if the US thought that Iran’s program to acquire atomic weapons might lead to an attack on us, we would be justified in launching a preventive nuclear attack on them.
  19. 19. A Problem ●What is wrong with the Objectivist view? Aren’t you justified in resisting threats? ●The Objectivist view has the consequence that once something is perceived as a threat, the rights of anyone in the aggressor country lapse completely. ●Is this plausible? Suppose that I am giving a lecture, and I have good reason to think that someone in the room is going to kill me. Would I be justified in killing everyone in the room? Ethical egoism seems to imply that it
  20. 20. Traditional Just War Theory ●In traditional just war theory, wars can be undertaken only under very strict conditions. War must be a last resort, it must be carried out with the proper intention, and the force used must be proportional to the threat. The Objectivist view rejects all these requirements.
  21. 21. Justice in War ●Besides the requirements on starting a war, the traditional view imposes restrictions on how a just war can be carried out. Direct attacks on noncombatants are not allowed. ●Objectivists don’t recognize these limits. Civilians are at least partially responsible for their government. In any
  22. 22. Another Problem ●How aggressive this sort of policy would turn out to be depends on how Objectivists assess particular cases. ●Even if you accept egoism, there is a problem for this position. Threats by one country to another very often are not existential; the lives of those in the threatened country aren’t at stake. One country may simply want to take over territory from another. Egoism might not support Objectivist foreign policy, in these circumstances.