"Self-Ownership" is nothing more than linguistical twisting

Can the concept of “self-ownership” be justified via the way we speak about ourselves?

Rosetta Stone detail at the British Museum
Image by Chris Devers via Flickr

Francois Tremblay opines once more on the flawed concept of “Self-Ownership” and accurately describes the underlying flaws within this idea. This only further drives the nail in the coffin of an  idea which you will see utilized by almost every pro-capitalist (“Anarcho” or not) in order to justify private property. This is in fact why all the arguments against it are ignored even by those claiming that rationality is on their side.

I have not weighted in on this issue as I feel that others have made enough decisive arguments already, but Kinsella’s first argument reminded me of a recent lengthy discussion I had on this issue in reddit, and since Francois decided to counter only the second one while briefly touching thr first, I think I might point out why the whole thing is flawed. But first, here’s Kinsella’s argumen:

Why do we say “this is my body”? For this a twofold requirement exists. On the one hand it must be the case that the body called “mine” must indeed (in an intersubjectively ascertainable way) express or “objectify” my will. Proof of this, as far as my body is concerned, is easy enough to demonstrate: When I announce that I will now lift my arm, turn my head, relax in my chair (or whatever else) and these announcements then become true (are fulfilled), then this shows that the body which does this has been indeed appropriated by my will. If, to the contrary, my announcements showed no systematic relation to my body’s actual behavior, then the proposition “this is my body” would have to be considered as an empty, objectively unfounded assertion… On the other hand, apart from demonstrating that my will has been “objectified” in the body called “mine,” it must be demonstrated that my appropriation has priority as compared to the possible appropriation of the same body by another person.

I’ve highlighted the relevant parts which show how much of Kinsella’s argument rests on the use of words themselves. Francois mentions in passing:

In plain language, it is clear what Hoppe means, because our language evolved within the context of a belief in the soul as a separate entity which controls the body[…]

And that is indeed the larger point of how this whole argument from linguistics starts. In my reddit discussion, my opponent, Sage_Advice was claiming that I was already conceding the argument against “Self-Ownership” by trying to explain the reasoning by saying “I am my body”, where the “my” in this case means an ownership claim. This is very similar to what Kinsella is doing where he starts from the linguistical reasoning of how we speak about ourselves and our actions and then trying to see if he can justify this use via logic.

But there’s two flaws in this. One is that “my” does not always constitute a direct ownership claim as can be seen by phrases such as “my family” or “my doctor” or even “my dreams”. We understand intuitively in those uses that my has a simple meaning of relationship and not of ownership and we don’t use this way of language to try and claim such. The propertarians though find it very handy to ignore that there are different ways by which “my” or “mine” can by used because it can then be used to justify the rest of their ideological construct.

However there’s also the point that we may simply use different ways to speak about the same concepts without invoking the use of words that might imply property. For example, I don’t have to speak about “my body”, I can speak about “me” and I would mean the same thing. I can speak about me doing this or that instead of my hand doing this or that. As such. there’s no need to imply and accept a claim of ownership before I can take any action if I don’t use a particular phrasing to express this.

Unfortunately, the misleading way the language is formed is grasped and expanded in order to assert otherwise meaningless concepts. But fortunately it’s not language which defines reality but rather the other way around. And if the use of language fails to accurately descibe reality, then our only option is to modify the former, not redefine reality.

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10 thoughts on “"Self-Ownership" is nothing more than linguistical twisting”

  1. Proudhon himself made that argument in What is Property?, pointing out that people who talk about the property of the body are confusing the concepts of property-attribute and property-ownership, and also pointed out the various meanings of "mine" and "my." Which just goes to show you that we're not really inventing anything (I've actually come to that conclusion a long time ago).

  2. Interesting post. I would add that there are many people out there who think they want to move their hand and their hand does not obey (my aunt with cerebral palsy for one). Also, in Spanish, you don't say my hand. You say THE hand, even when you talk about the one attached to you.

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