In this post I update some rough ideas I discussed in my previous post titled “Who owns my brain?”   Here is a sketch of the argument, followed by discussion.

  • My mind and brain developed together as a cohesive inseparable whole.
  • My brain cannot be separated from me and still be used as a living, healthy brain.
  • The development of my mind and brain counts as an instance of homesteading or first appropriation.
  • I own my brain exclusively as a result of homesteading or first appropriation.
  • Non-private-property ethics entail that no one owns anything exclusively or as a result of first appropriation.
  • Therefore, non-private-property ethics entail a falsehood.
  • Therefore, non-private-property ethics are refuted.
  • If private property ethics and non-private-property ethics exhaust our options, refuting non-private-property makes private property a logical necessity

Let’s discuss.

  • My mind and brain developed together as a cohesive inseparable whole.
  • My brain cannot be separated from me and still be used as a living, healthy brain.

There is a specific, unusual relationship between me and my body, and especially between me and my brain. I am my brain. However we conceptualize “me”, I cannot be separated from my brain, without destroying both my brain and me. No matter what strange property arrangement a society concocted, we can’t imagine that it would insist that my consciousness may not inhabit my brain and my body, that I could somehow be evicted from my body and brain due to some other person having a more legitimate claim to use of these things in the same way I am using them now. Use of these things is in some sense identical to being me. My mind, brain and body form a cohesive inseparable whole.

While we can imagine science fiction or fantasy stories where another consciousness inhabits my brain, what we know of neurology now indicates this is not possible. A large part of “me” depends on the strength and arrangements of the interconnections between my brain cells, and while we can imagine simulating the process that these cells engage in to reproduce my consciousness in some other medium, I don’t think it seems feasible that we could rewire my brain to produce your consciousness instead. Or if we could, it seems like there would be much easier and more appropriate ways of achieving the goal of providing a brain for a brainless consciousness or the scarecrow of Oz.

  • The development of my mind and brain counts as an instance of homesteading or first appropriation.

How did I come to own my brain? How did I become myself? My consciousness developed along with my body and my brain. I was the first person to use my brain. I possess my brain and use it. It seems likely that no one else is capable of using it as a brain. We may question the legitimacy of my use, but legitimacy is not even a possibility for others, as feasibility rules them out. If I am the only one who can use it, I must use it legitimately. While my brain lives, I am the one using it.

  • I own my brain exclusively as a result of homesteading or first appropriation.

So, in some sense, my brain is my property. It is unusual, in that it is inalienable, whereas other sorts of several property can be transferred by sale, gift, inheritance, etc. On the other hand, I believe that the etymology of the word “property” comes from this, that “several property” consists of metaphorical properties of the owners which can be separated from the owner and transferred to another. But while they are mine, they are considered properties of my self, just as I have the property of having gray hair or the property of a groan-worthy sense of humor, and other personal properties of me. That is, several property is based on the idea of properties or attributes that inhere in or belong to a person. So, to say my brain does not belong to me is the same as saying I am not me.

If we accept that my brain belongs to me, we must also accept that the blood that brings oxygen, nutrients and energy to my brain also belongs to me. At some point, my brain will metabolize these or use them to repair itself. They will be either incorporated into my brain or used up by my brain, both of which entail that either these things belong to me (and my use of them is legitimate) or they belong to someone else (and I have stolen them). (If they are still unowned at this point, when my brain uses them this comes to an end and I own at least the part of them that is absorbed or dissipated by my brain.) If my use is legitimate, I have made my point – some aspect of private property is necessary. (Note that even if my point carries the day, this doesn’t require that all such use be legitimate. If I steal some food and eat it, then my blood carries the nutrients to my brain where they are used up or incorporated into my brain, that’s not legitimate.) If my use is illegitimate, how does anyone live? Either everyone has to steal nutrients to stay alive, or there has to be some way for them to take sole possession of some nutrients, to own them. (Perhaps my opponent thinks that the human race is morally obligated to commit collective suicide? Hmm, suicide or property, a difficult choice?) So to use my brain for thinking is to own it. And I own the nutrients in my blood.

  • Non-private-property ethics entail that no one owns anything exclusively or as a result of first appropriation.

Private property is in alignment with the idea that my self, my identity, my consciousness (however we wish to conceptualize these, the subject, the selves, etc.) are in a special relationship with my brain and my body, while other property ethics conflict with this idea. Private property allows me to own my brain and own nutrients that I use to nourish it. Private property treats me, my brain, my body and my food as just more stuff, no different from any other sort of stuff. But non-private property schemes must make an exception for these items. But they do not make exceptions, their logic applies to everything. Hence the contradiction.

  • Therefore, non-private-property ethics entail a falsehood.
  • Therefore, non-private-property ethics are refuted.

If I necessarily own my brain, this contradicts the idea that no one owns anything, or that some other scheme has authority over all property relations.

  • If private property ethics and non-private-property ethics exhaust our options, refuting non-private-property makes private property a logical necessity.

We can imagine a hybrid property scheme, that accepts private property in cases like my brain where non-private-property is infeasible, but insists on non-private-property wherever feasible. From Hoppe’s rationalist/absolutist viewpoint this is incoherent and an obvious loser. Even from an empiricist viewpoint, this weakens the case of the private property critic. If some applications of private property are legitimate and even necessary, the case against private property is greatly weakened, even if we do not rule out ad hoc solutions. Indeed, most critiques of private property and suggestions for alternatives speak in terms of universals, absolutes, and general categories. They do not criticize particular instances or subclasses of private ownership, but all private ownership as a category, and the inclusion of exceptions to their generalizations would render them incoherent.
I have argued that categorical non-private-property schemes are self-contradictory. Private property is compatible with the observations about brains, so it remains logically consistent and compatible with reality. If those are our two only choices, logic chooses private property.