I Love Rand

Objectivist Environmental Ethics

66 posts in this topic

Hello,

I am new to this forum and was told by the administrator that it is not very active, but I thought I would start this topic with hope someone will be able to discuss the issue.

As the thread title states, I would like to discuss environmental ethics and how Rands Objectivist philosophy would deal with some currect issues. I will provide a possible circumstance that I would like to use for discussion, please keep responses within the context of the example provided.

==

Rand holds property rights as being fundamental to a more fundamental right to life (see AR Lexicon under property rights). She claims that without property rights (outside of the more fundamental right to life) no other rights are possible. Thus a proper role of government would be to protect property rights within a society based on an Objectivist ethics.

==

Suppose a company named AJ owns property near a stream and produces a product for profit. During the manufacturing process a liquid waste is produced that contains heavy metals at such concentrations that it is known via experiments that the waste water will kill living organisms.

:

Next, suppose that the owner of AJ decides to discharge the waste water into a stream that flows onto land property owned by a farmer Jones, and that 80% of the cows owned by Jones die from drinking the stream water that contains the toxic waste (this fact is determined by the vet hired by the farmer to investigate the cause of death). Testing of the sediment in the stream on Jones property finds only heavy metals released by the company to be at toxic levels. Here I assume Rand would define the cows as property owned by the farmer. In this circumstance the stream water is owned by the government via state law.

My question is: Under an Objectivist ethics, what is the proper role of government to protect the property rights (land and cows) of farmer Jones ?

I hope that someone with interest will enter the discussion.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Suppose a company named AJ owns property near a stream and produces a product for profit. During the manufacturing process a liquid waste is produced that contains heavy metals at such concentrations that it is known via experiments that the waste water will kill living organisms.

Next, suppose that the owner of AJ decides to discharge the waste water into a stream that flows onto land property owned by a farmer Jones, and that 80% of the cows owned by Jones die from drinking the stream water that contains the toxic waste (this fact is determined by the vet hired by the farmer to investigate the cause of death). Testing of the sediment in the stream on Jones property finds only heavy metals released by the company to be at toxic levels.

Here I assume Rand would define the cows as property owned by the farmer. In this circumstance the stream water is owned by the government via state law.

Actually not. If the farmer were using the stream to supply water to his cows before AJ discharged the toxic wastes, in so doing, he acquired a property right to use the stream to water his cows. Likewise, fisherman who fished in the water would acquire a property right to fish, boaters would acquire a right to pass freely and safely, etc. A person acquires a property right to previously unowned and unused property by making productive use of it.

My question is: Under an Objectivist ethics, what is the proper role of government to protect the property rights (land and cows) of farmer Jones ?

Jones's right to use the stream have been violated, he would go to court, sue AJ for damages, and he would win. So would the fishermen and boaters who used the stream.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hello,

I am new to this forum and was told by the administrator that it is not very active, but I thought I would start this topic with hope someone will be able to discuss the issue.

---------

Suppose a company named AJ owns property near a stream and produces a product for profit. During the manufacturing process a liquid waste is produced that contains heavy metals at such concentrations that it is known via experiments that the waste water will kill living organisms.

:

Next, suppose that the owner of AJ decides to discharge the waste water into a stream that flows onto land property owned by a farmer Jones, and that 80% of the cows owned by Jones die from drinking the stream water that contains the toxic waste (this fact is determined by the vet hired by the farmer to investigate the cause of death). Testing of the sediment in the stream on Jones property finds only heavy metals released by the company to be at toxic levels. Here I assume Rand would define the cows as property owned by the farmer. In this circumstance the stream water is owned by the government via state law.

--------------

I'd like to challenge your assumption that the water would be owned by the government. In a proper society, all property is privately owned. The same principle that applies to land applies to water, as Betsy indicates. Why is violation of land rights different than water rights? Because the water moves from one location to another? Why does that affect the principle? Even with the issues of today that the state "owns" water, the same principle would apply. If someone dumps somenthing upstream that causes damage downstream, the polluter is (or should be) the legally responsible party. Observe that you are not allowed to dump waste on government land. Why should you be allowed to dump it in water?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Suppose a company named AJ owns property near a stream and produces a product for profit. During the manufacturing process a liquid waste is produced that contains heavy metals at such concentrations that it is known via experiments that the waste water will kill living organisms.

Next, suppose that the owner of AJ decides to discharge the waste water into a stream that flows onto land property owned by a farmer Jones, and that 80% of the cows owned by Jones die from drinking the stream water that contains the toxic waste (this fact is determined by the vet hired by the farmer to investigate the cause of death). Testing of the sediment in the stream on Jones property finds only heavy metals released by the company to be at toxic levels.

Here I assume Rand would define the cows as property owned by the farmer. In this circumstance the stream water is owned by the government via state law.

Actually not. If the farmer were using the stream to supply water to his cows before AJ discharged the toxic wastes, in so doing, he acquired a property right to use the stream to water his cows. Likewise, fisherman who fished in the water would acquire a property right to fish, boaters would acquire a right to pass freely and safely, etc. A person acquires a property right to previously unowned and unused property by making productive use of it.

My question is: Under an Objectivist ethics, what is the proper role of government to protect the property rights (land and cows) of farmer Jones ?

Jones's right to use the stream have been violated, he would go to court, sue AJ for damages, and he would win. So would the fishermen and boaters who used the stream.

Thank you for your comments.

Are you saying that if farmer Jones had started to use the stream flowing on his property to water his cows after AJ company had long been discharging the toxic waste water that Jones would have no legal recourse under an Objectivist ethics ? Why would any court rule again AJ company if they had prior stream water use rights to legally discharge the wastes products derived from activities that resulted in productive actions, products to sell, jobs, etc ?

==

Concerning your comment about public vs private ownership of natural waterways, I am not aware of any State in the United States that grants private ownership of flowing river and stream 'water', nor does the US Constitution. However, both public and private ownership of the land under which rivers and streams flow is allowed. Thus, in the example above, farmer Jones would have a right to private property ownership of the land over which the stream water flows, and the legal right to capture and use amounts of the water to water his cows, but the water itself is under public ownership. Thus I argue that a proper role of government under an Objectivist environmental ethic would be for the government to file legal action against AJ company for specially causing harm to the water that they owned, in addition to any legal action filed by famer Jones for any harm to his cows.

I have looked but I cannot find any mention where Rand specifically stated that flowing river water is a type of property that can associated with private rights. In the Lexicon, Rand specifically requires that a 'property right' is not a right to any natural resource object (or thing) such as stream water, but a right to make productive use of any object. Thus under an Objectivist environmental ethic I argue that no individual would hold a right of ownership to the flowing stream water itself 'as an object', only a right to make productive use of the water iff such a use did not violate the rights of another individual to also make use of the water.

Rand wrote that physcial sound waves of energy produced by humans for communication and music (radio, TV, internet, etc.) should be granted private property rights, and I agree. However, note that in this example Rand never made a claim that the atmosphere into which radio waves are released is under private ownership. She made mention of a concept of ether into which sound waves are released, scientifically negated by Einstein, so Rand has nothing factual to say about about the entity that exists into which sound waves are released. Under common law, the atmosphere into which specific waves of sound energy are released, as an entity that exists, is under public ownership. The logical reason is that in principle the atmosphere itself is not a stationary physical object or thing to which stationary private property rights can be granted within defined boundaries. The name used by physicists for the entity into which sound waves are relased, it is called space-time, which is a physical entity that exists according to Einstein General Theory of Relativity.

I argue that in the same way that Rand does not claim a right to private ownership of space-time (atmosphere) into which physical sound waves of energy created by humans can be released, Rand also would not claim a private property right to flowing river water itself into which waste products such as toxic heavy metals can be released. Logically, if something good can be added to the atmosphere in the form of sound waves for communication, something bad also could be added, and it is the proper role of government under an Objectivist ethic to pass laws to protect individual rights. Same for adding anything to water, it is either a good or bad action, nothing in between. In the example in the OP, farmer Jones was granted a legal right by the government to remove a small amount of stream water to water his cows. Thus under a proper Objectivisit ethic the government would have a legal right to file legal action against AJ company if the stream water they owned was made unfit for future productive use by individuals such as farmer Jones.

I argue that a proper Objectivist environmental ethic must grant public entities the legal right to hold 'property rights', as the concepts 'property' and 'rights' are defined in Objectivist terms. I can find nothing written by Rand to suggest otherwise. Rand made clear that there are proper roles of government, and one such role is to creat laws to protect individual rights. Where laws exist, rules exist to enforce the laws. Thus it would be a proper role of government under an Objectivist ethics to enfore rules they create, which means the government can file legal actions against any company or individual that violates those rules. It also would be a proper role of government under an Objectivist ethics for the government to pass laws whereby the government has 'property rights'. For example, does not the United States government Army own guns as property, the Navy ships, the Airforce planes...all to protect individual rights ? In the same way, governments can own flowing river water and the space-time atmosphere to protect the rights of individuals to use such objects that lack distinct and stationary boundaries as entities that exist.

To summarize, in the OP example, I argue that Rand would recognize the right of the government to file legal action against AJ company as a means to enforce the rules properly created by government concerning release of toxic wastes into flowing streams. She also would grant farmer Jones a right to file legal action, but not because farmer Jones has any claim to ownership of stream water, but instead because he has legal claim to cows (his private property) that died drinking contaminated stream water.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd like to challenge your assumption that the water would be owned by the government. In a proper society, all property is privately owned. The same principle that applies to land applies to water, as Betsy indicates. Why is violation of land rights different than water rights? Because the water moves from one location to another? Why does that affect the principle? Even with the issues of today that the state "owns" water, the same principle would apply. If someone dumps somenthing upstream that causes damage downstream, the polluter is (or should be) the legally responsible party. Observe that you are not allowed to dump waste on government land. Why should you be allowed to dump it in water?

Thank you for comments. Please see my reply above to Betsy.

It cannot be logically true that in a proper society under an Objectivist ethics that all property is privately owned. Rand made clear that there does exist a 'proper role of government'. What is proper is that governments must pass laws and rules to protect rights of individuals. If in the course of protecting those individual rights the government produces a product ( a gun, a bomb, a jet airplane, etc.) of course Rand would say that the property produced by the government must be under the legal ownership of the government. Thus, all property cannot be privately owned in a proper Objectivist society, at least not as Rand explained the 'proper role of government'.

I agree with you that the polluter in my OP example, company AJ, is the legally responsible party. My question was, what is the proper role of government to protect the farmer Jones. I argue that because it is proper for government to claim property right ownership of flowing river water, it would be a proper role of government to file legal action against the responsible party for causing harm to the property they own. Of course, the farmer Jones also has a right to file action against company AJ because the property he owns, cows, were killed. It seems to me that it would be best for farmer Jones to join the case filed by the government to save money in legal costs.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Are you saying that if farmer Jones had started to use the stream flowing on his property to water his cows after AJ company had long been discharging the toxic waste water that Jones would have no legal recourse under an Objectivist ethics ?

That's correct. In law, it is called the Doctrine of Coming to the Nuisance (link).

Why would any court rule again AJ company if they had prior stream water use rights to legally discharge the wastes products derived from activities that resulted in productive actions, products to sell, jobs, etc ?

The court shouldn't rule against the AJ Company.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Concerning your comment about public vs private ownership of natural waterways, I am not aware of any State in the United States that grants private ownership of flowing river and stream 'water', nor does the US Constitution.

Under common law and some statute law, the private property rights to natural waterways are defined. Google "riparian rights."

However, both public and private ownership of the land under which rivers and streams flow is allowed. Thus, in the example above, farmer Jones would have a right to private property ownership of the land over which the stream water flows, and the legal right to capture and use amounts of the water to water his cows, but the water itself is under public ownership.

It shouldn't be.

Thus I argue that a proper role of government under an Objectivist environmental ethic would be for the government to file legal action against AJ company for specially causing harm to the water that they owned, in addition to any legal action filed by famer Jones for any harm to his cows.

If someone's rights have been violated, then that person can sue for damages in a civil court and collect. If someone acted with intent to cause harm, he could be tried as a criminal. In neither case would government ownership of the property be necessary.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Are you saying that if farmer Jones had started to use the stream flowing on his property to water his cows after AJ company had long been discharging the toxic waste water that Jones would have no legal recourse under an Objectivist ethics ?

That's correct. In law, it is called the Doctrine of Coming to the Nuisance (link).

Why would any court rule again AJ company if they had prior stream water use rights to legally discharge the wastes products derived from activities that resulted in productive actions, products to sell, jobs, etc ?

The court shouldn't rule against the AJ Company.

AJ company only has the right to pollute his own property, not his neighbours cows. Once the pollution moves off AJ's property, he should be held accountable for damages done by it. Unless one grants the government the right to allow some to do harm to others.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Are you saying that if farmer Jones had started to use the stream flowing on his property to water his cows after AJ company had long been discharging the toxic waste water that Jones would have no legal recourse under an Objectivist ethics ?

That's correct. In law, it is called the Doctrine of Coming to the Nuisance (link).

Why would any court rule again AJ company if they had prior stream water use rights to legally discharge the wastes products derived from activities that resulted in productive actions, products to sell, jobs, etc ?

The court shouldn't rule against the AJ Company.

AJ company only has the right to pollute his own property, not his neighbours cows. Once the pollution moves off AJ's property, he should be held accountable for damages done by it. Unless one grants the government the right to allow some to do harm to others.

Not so simple. If you build a house next to an airport, you can't then complain there's too much noise. If you build your house next to a garbage dump, don't complain about the smell.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Concerning your comment about public vs private ownership of natural waterways, I am not aware of any State in the United States that grants private ownership of flowing river and stream 'water', nor does the US Constitution.

Under common law and some statute law, the private property rights to natural waterways are defined. Google "riparian rights."

However, both public and private ownership of the land under which rivers and streams flow is allowed. Thus, in the example above, farmer Jones would have a right to private property ownership of the land over which the stream water flows, and the legal right to capture and use amounts of the water to water his cows, but the water itself is under public ownership.

It shouldn't be.

Concerning your first comment, "riparian rights" are only associated with the ownership of the land that is adjacent to streams and rivers. By definition, the riparian area of a waterway does not include the flowing water.

==

I do not agree with your second comment that flowing stream and river waters should not be under public ownership in a proper Objectivist society. Rand never said that governments cannot own property if such an action is a proper role of government, to protect individual rights. The property under discussion here, natural flowing stream water, does not have a static location in space and time, making it impossible for any single individual to claim a sole right of ownership, that cannot at the same time, but in a different place, be claimed by others. Thus the metaphysical facts associated with property and ownership rights concerning natural flowing streams differ in principle from those associated with discrete objects.

Below is an example to support my position that natural stream and river water must always be under public ownership in a proper Objectivist society, and I welcome discussion:

Consider 100 property owners living in an Objectivist society with adjacent land 200 meters apart that is connected to a flowing stream. Suppose the 40th owner from the upstream location decides to put a dam on the stream to make productive use of the water to construct a fish farm and sell the fish for profit. Large amounts of nutrients will be added to the water behind the dam that will result in the water turning pea green from algae and toxic cyanobacteria. The dam pool extends upstream to the first property owner. Under this circumstance, all 39 of the upstream property owners would lose land due to flooding and also lose their right to use the natural flowing stream water for their own productive use. In addition, all 69 of the downstream property owners would end up with pea green water discharged from the dam loaded with potentially toxic algae that would deminish their right of use of the stream water.

I argue that the proper way for an Objectivist society to protect the property rights of all 100 property owners is to place the ownership of the jointly used property, the flowing stream, under government ownership. In this way no action by a single individual would be allowed if the action violated the right of any other property owner to make productive use of the jointed used natural resource. Such a society is rational because it meets Rand's definition of a "proper role of government", that is, to pass laws and enforce rules to protect individual property rights of everyone. In this way, the costs of taking legal action to protest legal constraints placed on use of property would be completely incurred by the single individual who wants to place the dam on the stream.

Addionally, it is consistent with a proper Objectivist ethic to allow governments to pass laws and enforce rules that grant public ownership of natural resources (such as land, water, air) because the government, as a legal entity, can directly gain profit from the capital value associated with the resource. The profit could then be used to reduce tax on individuals to support other proper roles of government, such as fund the military. For example, there is a long history of the federal government placing dams on streams, on property they own, to protect the individual property rights of downstream property owners from flooding. The program is under control of the military, the Army Corps of Engineers. The government gains profit from the capital value of the man-made resource that they create, the reservioir of water behind the dam. The government can sell the water behind the dam for productive use by individuals, and they can charge fees for recreational use of the water. I argue that Rand would find that the actions of the Army Corps of Engineers to place dams on streams with the objective to protect the property rights of downstream individuals from flooding would be a proper role of government in an Objectivist society. Of course this is only attained if the government holds legal ownership to all of the land flooded upstream from the dam.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Concerning your first comment, "riparian rights" are only associated with the ownership of the land that is adjacent to streams and rivers. By definition, the riparian area of a waterway does not include the flowing water.

It certainly does include flowing water. According to Wikipedia (link)

Riparian water rights (or simply riparian rights) is a system for allocating water among those who possess land along its path. It has its origins in English common law. Riparian water rights exist in many jurisdictions with a common law heritage, such as Canada, Australia, and states in the eastern United States.

[...]

Riparian rights include such things as the right to access for swimming, boating and fishing; the right to wharf out to a point of navigability; the right to erect structures such as docks, piers, and boat lifts; the right to use the water for domestic purposes; the right to accretions caused by water level fluctuations; the right to exclusive use if the waterbody is non-navigable. Riparian rights also depend upon "reasonable use" as it relates to other riparian owners to ensure that the rights of one riparian owner are weighed fairly and equitably with the rights of adjacent riparian owners

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Below is an example to support my position that natural stream and river water must always be under public ownership in a proper Objectivist society, and I welcome discussion:

Consider 100 property owners living in an Objectivist society with adjacent land 200 meters apart that is connected to a flowing stream. Suppose the 40th owner from the upstream location decides to put a dam on the stream to make productive use of the water to construct a fish farm and sell the fish for profit.

Large amounts of nutrients will be added to the water behind the dam that will result in the water turning pea green from algae and toxic cyanobacteria. The dam pool extends upstream to the first property owner. Under this circumstance, all 39 of the upstream property owners would lose land due to flooding and also lose their right to use the natural flowing stream water for their own productive use. In addition, all 69 of the downstream property owners would end up with pea green water discharged from the dam loaded with potentially toxic algae that would deminish their right of use of the stream water.

This dilemma could easily be resolved by recognizing the riparian rights of the people downstream to boat, fish, etc. in clear water and those upstream to the use of previously unflooded land for farming, building structures, etc. Any of them could get an injunction to prevent the building of the dam if they could prove it would be harmful. There's no need for government ownership when private owners have a way of looking out for and protecting their own rights.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Concerning your first comment, "riparian rights" are only associated with the ownership of the land that is adjacent to streams and rivers. By definition, the riparian area of a waterway does not include the flowing water.

It certainly does include flowing water. According to Wikipedia (link)

Riparian water rights (or simply riparian rights) is a system for allocating water among those who possess land along its path. It has its origins in English common law. Riparian water rights exist in many jurisdictions with a common law heritage, such as Canada, Australia, and states in the eastern United States.

[...]

Riparian rights include such things as the right to access for swimming, boating and fishing; the right to wharf out to a point of navigability; the right to erect structures such as docks, piers, and boat lifts; the right to use the water for domestic purposes; the right to accretions caused by water level fluctuations; the right to exclusive use if the waterbody is non-navigable. Riparian rights also depend upon "reasonable use" as it relates to other riparian owners to ensure that the rights of one riparian owner are weighed fairly and equitably with the rights of adjacent riparian owners

Betsy, thank you for the riparian water rights link. I did not make myself clear. I was taking about ownership of the water itself as a natural resource. If you read all of the riparian right cases they all say these rights do not grant a right to ownership of the water itself (as an object), only a right to some use of the object. It is interesting to read how many different legal interpretations of riparian rights exist.

I was taking about the legal principle that is called the Public Trust Doctrine. Please see this Wiki link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_trust_doctrine

Under this law, it is the government that has onwership of the natural resource itself, the flowing water as an object. Riparian Rights are liminted by the Public Trust Doctrine.

So, back the proper role of government in an Objectivist society concerning ownership of flowing stream water. My claim would be that the Public Trust Doctrine would be a proper role of government in an Objectivist society for all flowing stream waters, as I argued in my post above. One could then overlay a concept of Riparian Rights for private land property owners to grant hem reasonable use of the flowing water. But, rather than force each of the many individual riparian owners to keep track of what their upstream and downstream neighbors plan to do, or in fact do, and be forced to take costly legal actions to protect their property rights, I claim that is it more rational to grant that it is the proper role of government to review and legally approve all such proposed modifications to the flowing water that is owned by mutiple individuals.

Under this system, using my example above of the 100 property owners along a stream living in an Objectivist society, the 40th land owner would not have been allowed to place the dam on the stream to use the water for a fish farm business because the action would have violated the riparian right uses of the other 99 property owners. Under my system, this decision would have been made via enforcement of the Public Trust Doctrine by the state government during review of the protect.

Now, where the courts come to play in a proper Objectivist society is that only one person, the 40th person who wants to build the dam and begin a fish farm business, who would need to take legal action to appeal the ruling made during the government review.

Because Rand place rational thought above all other thought, clearly it is most rational that a legal system be put in place in a proper Objectivist society to protect property rights that requires that only 1 legal entity, and not 99 individuals, be forced to spend money to appeal actions. Just as it is a proper role of government via the military to protect all individual right to life from others that which to cause harm, I claim it is the proper role of government to protect the property Riparian Rights of all individuals via the Public Trust Doctrine for all flowing waters. I think Rand would agree with me because she clearly held that there are 'proper roles of government', and she never made claim that governments cannot own a natural resource that is used in common by all, such as flowing streams and rivers.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was taking about ownership of the water itself as a natural resource. If you read all of the riparian right cases they all say these rights do not grant a right to ownership of the water itself (as an object), only a right to some use of the object.

But that's what a property right is. A property right is not the right to a physical thing, but the right to use and dispose of a physical thing in a specified way, A property right -- like all rights -- is not a right to a thing, but to an action.

A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.

[...]

The concept of a “right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.

[...]

Bear in mind that the right to property is a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object.

-- Ayn Rand, "Man's Rights" (link) [Emphasis mine]

As a consequence, individuals can have different property rights -- different freedoms of action -- in regard to the same physical object. For instance, I own a copy of Atlas Shrugged and I can read it, write notes in it, or sell it, but I can't make copies of it and sell the copies. The Estate of Ayn Rand owns the copyright to all physical copies of the book including mine. I own the land under my home but not the mineral rights and that means I can build a swimming pool but not drill for oil in my back yard.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was taking about ownership of the water itself as a natural resource. If you read all of the riparian right cases they all say these rights do not grant a right to ownership of the water itself (as an object), only a right to some use of the object.

But that's what a property right is. A property right is not the right to a physical thing, but the right to use and dispose of a physical thing in a specified way, A property right -- like all rights -- is not a right to a thing, but to an action.

A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.

[...]

The concept of a “right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.

[...]

Bear in mind that the right to property is a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object.

-- Ayn Rand, "Man's Rights" (link) [Emphasis mine]

Thanks Betsy for the reply, I greatly appreciate your interest.

So, from the above exchange it seems clear that a proper Objectivist environmental ethic needs to clearly define (1) property rights and (2) ownership of property.

From the above quote of Rand and your example of purchasing a book written by Rand, a property right is not an exclusive right of ownership of an object or a material object. Thus you can legally burn the book you purchased but you cannot copy it. Ownership of the book, that is, who determines ultimate how the book is used and disposed, lies with the Ayn Rand Institute. Only Ayn Rand has both exclusive property rights and ownership rights to the book she wrote, the final product of her mind.

Back to the OP topic, a flowing stream or river cannot be owned by any individual because by definiton it is a metaphysical object and not a man-made object. According to Rand, the concept of ownership only applies to 'material goods', and not to just any thing that exists, such as a natural resource. She makes this clear in "The Virtue of Selfishness", p. 91...."Since material goods are produced by the mind...if the producer does not own the result of his efforts, he does not own his life" (Ayn Rand). Thus the concept of ownership differs from the concept of property rights in these ways (1) one can hold both ownership and property rights (2) one can hold property rights but not ownership, both of these situations are allowed under a proper Objectivist ethics.

For the above reasons, citizens can pass laws that would grant ownership of a metaphysical object that is a natural resource, such as a flowing stream, to the government as a proper role of government to protect the property rights of all individuals that have a direct access to the steam for use. It is the concept of ownership that permits DETERMINATION of the proper and legal way any object can be used or disposed, that is, according to Rand, ownership puts legal constraint(s) on property rights. Thus it is the concept of ownership of the book you purchased written by Ayn Rand that puts constraints on the property rights granted to you by your actions of paying money for the book. In the same way, government ownership of flowing streams and rivers is proper under an Objectivist environmental ethics to put constraints on the property rights granted to those that purchase tracks of land adjacent to a stream.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So, from the above exchange it seems clear that a proper Objectivist environmental ethic needs to clearly define (1) property rights and (2) ownership of property.

It does.

From the above quote of Rand and your example of purchasing a book written by Rand, a property right is not an exclusive right of ownership of an object or a material object.

Property rights are freedoms of action. A property right is the right to use and dispose of a specific material object in a specific way. It may or may not be exclusive. For instance, I have the right to use the clubhouse, pool, and gym in the gated community where I live and so do other property owners in the community. I have the right to consume alcoholic beverages in the clubhouse but not in the pool area.

Thus you can legally burn the book you purchased but you cannot copy it. Ownership of the book, that is, who determines ultimate how the book is used and disposed, lies with the Ayn Rand Institute. Only Ayn Rand has both exclusive property rights and ownership rights to the book she wrote, the final product of her mind.

There are a few incorrect assumptions here. Once I own a copy of Atlas Shrugged, only I can say how that copy is used and disposed of. I can do anything I want to with it and nobody can or should stop me. The only thing I can't do is copy it. The copy does not belong to me.

Also, the copyright is owned by the Estate of Ayn Rand, i.e., Leonard and Cynthia Peikoff. The Ayn Rand Institute is a totally separate entity. If ARI wants to publish an Ayn Rand essay on their website, they have to get permission from the Estate.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Back to the OP topic, a flowing stream or river cannot be owned by any individual because by definiton it is a metaphysical object and not a man-made object. According to Rand, the concept of ownership only applies to 'material goods', and not to just any thing that exists, such as a natural resource. She makes this clear in "The Virtue of Selfishness", p. 91...."Since material goods are produced by the mind...if the producer does not own the result of his efforts, he does not own his life" (Ayn Rand). Thus the concept of ownership differs from the concept of property rights in these ways (1) one can hold both ownership and property rights (2) one can hold property rights but not ownership, both of these situations are allowed under a proper Objectivist ethics.

That's incorrect because "ownership" means having a property right -- the right to use and dispose of -- a specific material object in a specific way. Owning and having a property right are exactly the same thing. Why would you think otherwise?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Back to the OP topic, a flowing stream or river cannot be owned by any individual because by definiton it is a metaphysical object and not a man-made object. According to Rand, the concept of ownership only applies to 'material goods', and not to just any thing that exists, such as a natural resource. She makes this clear in "The Virtue of Selfishness", p. 91...."Since material goods are produced by the mind...if the producer does not own the result of his efforts, he does not own his life" (Ayn Rand). Thus the concept of ownership differs from the concept of property rights in these ways (1) one can hold both ownership and property rights (2) one can hold property rights but not ownership, both of these situations are allowed under a proper Objectivist ethics.

That's incorrect because "ownership" means having a property right -- the right to use and dispose of -- a specific material object in a specific way. Owning and having a property right are exactly the same thing. Why would you think otherwise?

Thanks for your reply. I think the concepts ownership and property rights in the Objectivist philosophy are not exactly the same thing, here is my argument:

Although ownership means having a property right, the reverse is not always true, that is, having a property right does not always mean ownership. So, using the example that you purchase a copy of a book written by Rand, as you said, you do not have legal permission to use the book in all possible ways that a book could be used, e.g., you cannot make a copy of the book you purchased. Why not ? Because Ayn Rand (and now her Estate) owns the copy of the book you purchased via a copyright contract that you agreed to when you purchased the book. Before you spent money to purchase the book it was clearly written near the front cover that your property rights of how you can use the book are constrained, you cannot make a copy without permission of the owner.

But a book is not an apple. Suppose a farmer sold you an apple he produced. In contrast to Rand and her book, the farmer does not make a claim of ownership of the apple, you can make copies of it by taking the seeds and try to grow them. Thus, while you can claim both ownership and property right to the apple you purchased from the farmer, you can never claim both ownership and property rights for the purchase of a copy of a book written by Ayn Rand...the reason being that you cannot make a copy of what Ayn Rand owns. Thus, while it is true that under some situations ownership and property rights mean the same thing, they do not mean the same thing under all situations. I argue that the concept that makes ownership and property rights NOT exactly the same under all circumstances is "determination of use".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

By purchasing the book itself, one owns the book and has all rights to that property. If you were to copy the book, then you would be extending your use beyond the book itself. The same could apply to the apple, if the seeds were patented, allowing you to use the apple itself, but not profit from genetic engineering done by others. Otherwise one wants not just the particular book or apple, but all the work that went into producing them. Clearly one cannot claim one ever paid or had a right to that, so in that sense one's rights are NOT restricted in the ownership of the book since that is all one purchased.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Although ownership means having a property right, the reverse is not always true, that is, having a property right does not always mean ownership. So, using the example that you purchase a copy of a book written by Rand, as you said, you do not have legal permission to use the book in all possible ways that a book could be used, e.g., you cannot make a copy of the book you purchased. Why not ? Because Ayn Rand (and now her Estate) owns the copy of the book you purchased via a copyright contract that you agreed to when you purchased the book. Before you spent money to purchase the book it was clearly written near the front cover that your property rights of how you can use the book are constrained, you cannot make a copy without permission of the owner.

I own the book, but the reason I can't copy it is because, if I do, I don't own the copy I made. It's a different thing than the copy I bought.

The main point, however, is that ownership always means the actions you can take with a physical object and nothing more. What else could it possibly -- and properly -- mean?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thus, while it is true that under some situations ownership and property rights mean the same thing, they do not mean the same thing under all situations. I argue that the concept that makes ownership and property rights NOT exactly the same under all circumstances is "determination of use".

What does "determination of use" mean and could you give some examples?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ayn Rand held that in a free society all property is privately owned. A right is moral principle sanctioning freedom of action in a social context. A property right in particular is the right of use and disposal.

In a free society a proper government must be limited in its functions. The citizens are free to act in accordance with their rights and are limited only in what they cannot do -- because of laws protecting the rights of all individuals. The government -- as an institution that operates by force -- is limited to doing only what it can and must do. It does not act by freedom and has no "rights". A government that acts through "freedom"of government officials in the name of "rights" to do what they want is tyranny.

Limited government functions require that government have control over limited amounts of property such as some buildings and the land they are on. It can only use that property in accordance with its required, proper functions, for example as an office, jail or fort. It does not act by "right" and has no freedom of action do whatever it wants with the property. It may hold the deed to legally establish its control over a particular property, but it has no property rights. Again, in a proper society all property is privately owned. That is the only form of ownership rights permitted.

The notion of government "owning" property on behalf of "the people" is collectivism antithetical to Ayn Rand's principles of ethics and political philosophy. Collective "ownership" or government "ownership" is not owning property at all; it is a lack of ownership. When the government "owns" something, no one owns it. Government control over resources in the name of "ownership" is the opposite of property rights.

It may make sense for a number of specific people, for example along a stream or road, to share ownership in some form, such as the right of passage, through joint ownership. There may be a legal partnership or corporation responsible for maintenance. That is an application of property rights and is distinct from government control in the name of collective ownership by "the people".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Even today there are private property rights in water, such as private wells relying on a supply of water from an aquifer, or use of the water in a stream flowing through private land, or rights to the water in a river for irrigation or cattle grazing (even on what is otherwise "public land" used under a Federal permit). There are also many examples of these rights being abrogated, especially by government refusal to acknowledge them through laws annihilating the rights or outright bureaucratic decrees.

The recent Hage case in the Supreme Court, for example, reaffirmed water rights used for cattle where BLM bureaucrats had denied them and had literally harassed and persecuted the owner through incredible abuse over a period of many years. The water rights were re-established. Nothing could be done to compensate for the loss or the extreme violation of rights through personal abuse of the owners.

The viros have been responsible for the abuse as they try to collectivize all natural resources, including land, water and minerals.

The most recent threat is the Obama EPA, which is run by viros, attempting to exploit control over water in the name of preventing "pollution" to establish Federal land use controls everywhere. For decades they have been extending the meaning of the Clean Water Act, which pertains to "navigable waters of the United States", to control land near any stream, pond, mud puddle and "wetland" (which are often perfectly dry). The Supreme Court beat them back a few years ago, Congress refused to give them what they want, and the EPA is now in the process of making new "rules" to do it anyway under the imperial presidency of Obama and his "pen" as he legislates what he wants.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Are you saying that if farmer Jones had started to use the stream flowing on his property to water his cows after AJ company had long been discharging the toxic waste water that Jones would have no legal recourse under an Objectivist ethics ?

That's correct. In law, it is called the Doctrine of Coming to the Nuisance (link).

Why would any court rule again AJ company if they had prior stream water use rights to legally discharge the wastes products derived from activities that resulted in productive actions, products to sell, jobs, etc ?

The court shouldn't rule against the AJ Company.

AJ company only has the right to pollute his own property, not his neighbours cows. Once the pollution moves off AJ's property, he should be held accountable for damages done by it. Unless one grants the government the right to allow some to do harm to others.

Not so simple. If you build a house next to an airport, you can't then complain there's too much noise. If you build your house next to a garbage dump, don't complain about the smell.

An example of this is people moving into a rural or semi-rural area where they like the scenic farms, then lobbying to stop the farmers from using fertilizer because they don't like the smell.

Another one is the case of the timber companies with a prior use of rivers through the Maine woods to float the logs down to the ports where the logs were then transported by sea. The viros lobbied to change the laws to make it impossible for the timber companies to continue using the rivers -- which led to a network of roads for trucks which the viros also don't like -- they hate trucks, use of machinery in general, and the natural resources industry, especially in the forests these nature worshippers regard as their church under viro ethics. So they are trying to eliminate logging. Their constant clamor for collectivization of natural resources is intended for political control over everything. When they can control our water and other natural resources they have a stranglehold on everything.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks to all for the comments.

As stated below by Betsy in another thread topic under Government Ownership:

"A partnership, a corporation, a charity, a homeowners' association, a political party, a club, or a government can own property as an association." (quote by Betsy in the thread Government Ownership)

I agree with this and thus do not agree with the comments made above that governments cannot 'own' anything in a proper Objectivist society. Take the most simple example cited above, a legal partnership of two individuals. The legal ownership of the partnership is not a collectivist plot of two, when the partnership owns material goods, both own; when a club of 50 owns a building, everyone that makes use of the building owns the building; and when rational individuals as a nation grant government the ownership of a natural resource derived via metaphysical fact, everyone that is a citizen of that nation, and makes use of the resource, owns the resource via a private property right.

It is not a tenent of the Objectivist philosophy of Rand that governments cannot be granted ownership of natural resources (such as flowing streams and rivers) by rational individuals who have joint potential for use of that natural resource. It is the property right of individuals to delegate governments ownership rights if they believe that such ownership is a proper role of government to protect the individual rights of all who jointly use the natural resource. The rights of ownership derive from the governed, not the government. One cannot argue that such a system of government ownership would be a collectivist plot in a proper Objectivist society because the concept collectivist would not exist.

Take for example a logging company using a river to transport logs downstream as a way to maximize profits rather than move the logs via trucks or rail. In a proper Objectivist society this activity would never be allowed for the reason that the company does not have a property right ownership to the river. A logging company does not own any land adjacent to rivers. They are hired by property owners to cut trees. The act of putting logs into the river either by the logging company, or the property owner where the trees are cut, is an act of force against downstream property owners who may not want logs hitting into their fishing boats, killing their children who swim in the river, etc. It is the proper role of government to take legal action against anyone that uses force to deprive others their right to life, their right to use of private property. Thus it would be the proper role of government in an Objectivist society to pass laws that prohibit logging companies from placing logs into rivers, not because Objectivists are against the activity of logging, but because they place higher value on the property rights of those living along the river.

==

Please keep in mind, my goal for this thread is to develop a proper Objectivist Environmental Ethic, not discuss the failed attempts of the Democrat, Republican, Tea, and Libertarian parties to develop this ethic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites