Column by Jim Davies.

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Last month I wrote Opinion and Reason to encourage clear, rational thinking: i.e., to begin with a premise, progress from it in logical steps, and only then to arrive at a conclusion. This sits in contrast to the much more usual method of reaching any opinion: to begin with a prejudice (a “pre-judgment”) and then perhaps look around for supporting rationale. Aware that alas I venture into a minefield, I thought to suggest here how the rational principle might work when considering the morality of prematurely ending a pregnancy.
Libertarians have always shown a strong majority in favor of what's called “choice” (though that's a poor term; there is always choice), but a significant minority has for long been of the other persuasion, which they call “life” (that too is a poor term, for it unfairly implies that the adversary favors death). I'll not take account of non-libertarians' views, since they all disqualify themselves from rational discourse by favoring an irrational entity, “government.” And of course, I don't imply that any majority ever properly determines any correct answer.
Axiomatically, every person has a right to life, and at some point between conception and birth, the fetus becomes a person. The problem is that people disagree about when that happens. Some say the moment is at conception itself, some that it's at natural birth but not sooner. Others hold that it takes place at the time the fetus becomes viable, able to survive solo with adequate care; presently that's early in the third trimester. The Supreme Court in Roe v Wade dodged that key question by agreeing that early on the mother has a right to privacy (even to the fact of pregnancy, let alone its outcome or external control) but said that later, the State (a mythical entity) has an “interest” in the developing babe. Presumably it acquired that interest by magic – as is quite appropriate to a fiction.
Recently three good libertarians have expressed their rationales on the subject, and have reached different conclusions; so here's a case where a correct methodology doesn't lead to total unanimity. So (shock, horror!) the coming free society will be diverse.
The three are Walter Block, Becky Akers, and Butler Shaffer. Here's my summary of how each of them sees the subject – and for good measure I'll wind up with my own take. The overall effect will, I hope, better enable the reader to form (or re-form) his or hers.
Professor Block teaches economics at Loyola University, and during his life I believe he has changed his opinion a bit, from close to endorsing “abortion on demand” (though not of course at taxpayer expense) to an original idea which he calls “Evictionism,” explained hereat length. His premise is that the fetus is “trespassing” upon the mother's body and therefore she has a right to evict the trespasser if she so wishes – but not to kill it - and the two actions are separate. The analogy is clear: a trespasser in a house can properly be subjected to such force as is needed to cause him to leave, but not to any excess force, and that principle will apply in a free society. Only in very rare cases will the necessary force prove to be lethal; the trespasser will normally just go.
Hence, in Block's Evictionism idea, the mother has the proper right to rid her body of an unwanted visitor, but not to end its life. As he says, this makes no difference in the first two trimesters – the fetus will expire after eviction – but during the third, the mother will have an obligation to see that the baby's life is preserved. The problem is one-third solved.
He makes the powerful comment that as time and science progress, viability will tend to move from six months to five, to four and so on – that eventually, it may be feasible in some “test tube” environment to take a very young fetus and bring it to maturity, and so the abortion controversy will shift, over time, and finally become moot.
This is creative thinking! It will not satisfy those whose premise is that even the fertilized egg is a human person with an inherent right to life, but it does deal with the third trimester and promises to move ever closer to dealing with even that extreme position. As a compromise, it has a great deal of merit. Its main shortfall as I see it is that while Block is a professor of economics, he deals with this as if to propose a change in the law. The problem there is that in a free society – towards which he is presumably working – there will be no law, for there will be no government, and so law is irrelevant except in the short term; rather, in that free society, economics will be the prime determinant of almost everything. Why, exactly, should the mother have an obligation to preserve the life of the evicted fetus? The answer is partly ethical, yes, but also partly economic. Somebody must pay for the baby's care. Who? Why? Prof. Block has published a great deal about this proposition, so perhaps I missed it, but I saw no reference to that key subject.
As an important aside, Walter Block briefly presented this idea to the recent Ron Paul rally in Tampa, before some 11,000 supporters. Part of that audience booed him. That tells me that participants in the political process – even those enlightened enough to like what Paul says, and who had themselves been booed and excluded from the nearby RP convention that same week! -- frequently reach their positions by prejudice instead of reason. All of them need to read, mark, learn, digest and practice the principles in Opinion and Reason. And yes, to stop wasting their time in politics, for it's a dead loss. Okay, end of detour.
Becky Akers is a formidable and prolific writer – examples here – whose pieces are a delight to read, especially her frequent denunciations of the government's TSA. She took strong exception, however, to Walter Block's proposal, scorning his use of the term “trespasser” on the grounds that no invasion of property took place; the fetus came by invitation, by a positive choice on the mother's part (rape cases excepted).
This criticism seems to me to rest on a rather narrow definition of the term. It's true that by “trespass” we normally refer to the act of crossing a forbidden threshold or border, but the condition of being a trespasser also describes someone who is on someone else's property without leave, regardless of how he got there. So for example, a girl may invite her date back home for a nightcap, but when it becomes clear he has something a lot more than cognac on his mind, she changes her mind and asks him to leave. If he refuses, he's trespassing and she is entitled to use whatever force is needed to evict him.
In a later blog, Mrs. Akers makes plain her premise about human personhood: that it begins at conception. She opposes “removing in any way the life Providence creates in the womb” and opposes all abortion because “God said, 'Thou shalt do no murder.'” On that premise, of course, all abortion is immoral if it terminates the fetus, and her solution to the problem is not to take the action that is likely to produce a pregnancy; easy to say, but not always so simple to do. But what's the source of that premise? Will it withstand scrutiny? Those quotes make it plain: she thinks God is.
The trouble with that basis for any premise is that “God” is him/her/itself a hypothesis, whose existence is incapable of proof and whose essence so far lacks any definition. Such a foundation is one of sand. She might as well have said (though as a good anarchist she certainly did not) with the Supreme Court that “the State has an interest in the unborn.” God and State: equally fictitious.
Butler Shaffer is Professor of Law at Southwestern University, and recently wrote Of Children and Fetuses on this very subject. If you have time to read only some of the articles referenced here, do include this as a “must-read.”
I can relate very readily to his reverence for life. He sees it “as sacred; not 'sacred' according to some formal religious doctrine” but “as a quality innate in, perhaps, all of existence.” He even preserves the life of spiders on the wall – in which I cannot join him, being a lifelong certified arachnophobe – but I applaud his “anger toward other kids who would step on ants or bugs for no other apparent reason than to kill them.” I wonder if such brats typically grow up to become government employees? To find out would make a fascinating research project. Wonder at the richness of life in all (or most of) its forms is one of our great pleasures; step into the back yard, and see some of what two or three billion years of blind, impersonal, random evolutionary steps have produced! (Just after I wrote that sentence, a couple of young deer meandered across mine – as if to agree.)
Surprisingly, Shaffer accepts that a zygote is a human person in this context, on the grounds that conception “is the point at which one acquires his/her unique DNA that the sense of 'thingness' is transformed into a 'personhood' that is relatively free of arbitrary definition.”
A much greater surprise comes, though, when we read what he proposes to do about mothers who abort: nothing! “I am unwilling to sanction the use of violence to either (a) physically prevent, or (b) punish a woman for having an abortion” he writes. Thus, he moves the discussion to an altogether higher plane. In a free society, from which government force is excluded and in which justice consists of restitution but not punishment, that's exactly the point – and meanwhile, Shaffer will give no support to its use of force today. Mothers will be free to abort if they wish, but their choice will bring consequences not of legal sanction, just the disapproval of some of her neighbors – who will, no doubt, decline to employ, or keep company or do business with her; and Shaffer may be among them. She will know that, and make her choice accordingly.
So here's one law professor who favors the absence of legal sanction in this matter: good for him! I think he's exactly right, and that libertarians have been preoccupied for far too long, arguing about whether to compel unwilling mothers to give birth, or else to deny life to potential humans. In effect, Butler Shaffer places a pox on both these houses and recalls our attention to what we really stand for: abolishing compulsion, laissez faire.
My own take on this vexing subject is to applaud Schaffer in his refusal to condemn those who choose to abort, but to make that tolerance easier by saying that human personhood by no means begins as early as conception.
I suggest for a premise that a human being is a reasoning animal. That's the definition, the distinguishing feature of our race. It's not perfect and needs quantification, for the dogs I've known have been pretty smart, and I hear chimps can make rational choices, but perhaps it's close enough. Reasoning – rationality – is why we can claim to have a right to life; such a right would make little sense to an entity whose existence is pre-programmed. And of course, with rights come responsibilities. The power to make rational choices introduces moral responsibility, for a prime example.
Now, is a fertilized egg able to reason? Of course not. It has no brain, even. The question is absurd. Therefore, the zygote is not a human being and so it has no inherent rights, nor responsibilities – which in any case it would have no way to fulfill. Yes, of course it is a potential person, a proto-human, but until it acquires that ability it is not, and the contrary suggestion is ludicrous.
We therefore have two parties involved: (1) the mother, who certainly has the right to choose how to dispose of all parts of her own body throughout the process, and (2) the fetus, which has no such right initially but who acquires it at some point and at latest when born. If there is a conflict, the mother's choice must therefore prevail; the fetus' rights are uncertain and variable, the mother's rights are fixed and certain. End of story.
Except for a hopefully useful post-script: those who frown upon abortion at any stage will be entirely free, absent government and its regulations, to persuade the mother to give normal birth – the persuasion taking the form of a contract to adopt the child, and of a handsome fee. This, I explored in Abortion: A Market Solution?
In the future, when government has vanished, like all other divisive issues this one will become far less important. There will be no voter groups striving to impose their will on everyone else, for there will be no mechanism for imposing anything on everyone else. Instead, there will be a true diversity, rather like the diversity shown by the three distinguished thinkers above--a marketplace of ideas and preferences, and conduct offensive to some will come with its own structure of costs. Nobody will be forced to act against his wishes. Or hers.
I hope therefore that the reader will focus on what matters: ending the government era, as soon as can be done, and not get distracted by transient controversies like this one.


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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched http://TinyURL.com/QuitGov , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?" and in 2016, an unraveling of the great paradox of "income tax law" with "How Government Silenced Irwin Schiff."


Scott Lazarowitz's picture

Jim, you wrote: "I suggest for a premise that a human being is a reasoning animal. That's the definition, the distinguishing feature of our race. It's not perfect and needs quantification ... Reasoning – rationality – is why we can claim to have a right to life ...

"Now, is a fertilized egg able to reason? Of course not. It has no brain, even. The question is absurd. Therefore, the zygote is not a human being and so it has no inherent rights ..."

But what about many children and adult humans who seem to have little to no capacity for reason, or thinking rationally? What about someone who was born with some brain-related medical illness or some form of cognitive disorder? Do they have less of a right to life than those whose capacity for reason is greater?

And you mentioned "inherent" rights. If our rights to life and liberty are "inherent," then we just have them as humans, whether we have fully developed physically, rationally, emotionally or not.

So I guess it's okay with you for a woman to abort the "fetus" at any point of the pregnancy up to birth?

Glock27's picture

Elegant reply. Hope you don't mind me manipulating the words to paraphrase what you have just said. I find the remark quiet brilliant and you must has spent a good deal of time searching this topic. Great job as far as I am concerned because I believe that at the moment of conception a human being is in the process of evolving. I have a disabled child and we were suggested to abort it and later to institutionalize him and get on with our life. We did neither. He is now on his own, making decisions, albet not the most informed ones, but he is doing fine. I know many families with disabled children whom they never aborted. Some are in a very bad way, but the family choose to see to the care of the child, a human being.

Jim Davies's picture

Scott, I debated whether to include comment about that dilemma, but the article was already a bit long so instead I decided to leave it out and see who'd be first to raise it. Congratulations, you won the cigar!

Come up with a better definition of homo sapiens if you like, but a "reasoning animal" serves pretty well. People born without much ability to reason need to be compared not to those whose "capacity for reason is greater" but with, say, a puppy. I suggest there are very, very few cases in which the pup comes off smarter.

About your final para: yes, of course it's "okay with me" for a woman to do whatever she wishes with her own body; that follows directly from the self ownership axiom. With you too, I hope. However I might join you in trying to dissuade her from aborting when the fetus is viable. You did read the referenced article "Abortion: a Market Solution?" I hope? That shows one way to do so - to put money alongside mouth.

But like Butler Shaffer, who shares your apparent premise, under no circumstances would I use force against her. How about you?

Scarmig's picture


Another quote from the article, while it does not directly answer your question, leads more to Jim's point.

"I hope therefore that the reader will focus on what matters: ending the government era, as soon as can be done, and not get distracted by transient controversies like this one."

DP_Thinker's picture

I'm glad this was brought up, especially about Walter Block, as I have been thinking about a good way to respond to his logic in what appeared to me to be an obvious error.

Walter seems to think that an abortion is justified on the grounds of "trespassing". Though he would be right if a fetus were truly a trespasser. But he is forgetting that trespassing implies not being invited. I don't think that as a human being (and using reason and logic) one can believe that by voluntarily allowing the act(s) that will bring about a fetus in a female body to take place that the fetus is "uninvited". For that to be the case, the fetus would have had to have been put there by someone other than the female. Hence if a woman is raped, that would be a byproduct of the rape and fully able to be "expelled" as a trespasser.

But if a woman does what the laws of nature have proven will cause her to be pregnant, there can be no justification of trespassing. To use an analogy, Walter is basically comparing the burglar in your home to the uninvited fetus. Nonsense. Becoming pregnant is not the same. If you know that leaving your door open and a sign that says "Come in as you please" would attract uninvited guests, don't leave a sign on your door. Remember, this was a voluntary action that brought about the pregnancy (unless it was rape). That is the key, there can be no trespasser if they were voluntarily allowed in the door.

In this day and age, there is no such thing as an involuntary pregnancy. If you are raped, we have the morning after pill. If you aren't then you have agreed to follow through with the voluntary consequences of your actions.

Jim Davies's picture

DP Thinker, the point about being invited was posed and answered, I thought, in my paragraph about Becky Akers' remarks. It doesn't matter whether a trespasser was invited; if at some point during the visit he becomes no longer welcome, he becomes a trespasser if he refuses to go. As Walter points out, this is basic to property rights; and property rights are basic to libertarianism.

It's also true that a trespasser need not have intent to trespass. He could have wandered on to someone's land unintentionally. But he's still a trespasser, and can properly be removed with the least necessary force.

Mark Davis's picture

This is one of your best, Jim. You tackled one of the toughest questions of our time in a clear, succinct and level headed manner. I too agree with Butler Shaffer’s position.

I also like your summation of a reasonable market solution: “…those who frown upon abortion at any stage will be entirely free, absent government and its regulations, to persuade the mother to give normal birth – the persuasion taking the form of a contract to adopt the child, and of a handsome fee.”

Jim Davies's picture

Thanks, Mark!

DP_Thinker's picture

You are right, property rights do exist. And you are able to end the “visit” of a guest at your desire. But in the case of pregnancy, which reason tells us has a natural process that is self-evident, we are not merely dealing with a guest or trespasser. I should have stated it this way at first but what you are dealing with is more analogous to a rental tenant/agreement. You do not have the ability to cancel a contract partially through a rental contract. You have signed a unilateral contract by initially becoming pregnant, and need to perform or fulfill your end of the contract.

Now the argument will turn to “But the contract doesn’t have quid pro quo and I don’t receive any benefits.” Well first beneficial is subjective and second you most certainly received the benefit. Your benefit was in the act, a voluntary act that you received a benefit from (unless it was rape) and you are required to perform your part of the agreement: Renting your property to the fetus. There are natural consequences to the voluntary action of the Mother. She benefits initially, and then needs to perform her part of the contract. I also should remind you that a contract has certain aspects: Voluntary, an offer (the act) for the possibility of pregnancy, consideration (quid pro quo), etc.. I see all of the elements.

Another argument that could be raised is that this is not an implied contract, on various grounds. Unfortunately the laws of nature (and pregnancy is natural) are absolute. You cannot choose to make a contract with gravity, but by jumping off a building you are contracting with the laws of nature. This is self-evident.

If a woman did not want to be enslaved, she should not have performed a voluntary action that brings about known, natural consequences. Not to mention the complete lack of accountability, this creates disincentives. Most would argue that not being held accountable is also immoral. You made a choice, and that choice has consequences. This is the main argument of liberty – You are free to make decisions, but you must also deal with the consequences. The whole liberty movement is built on this, and with the ability to make bad decisions and not be held accountable for the consequences can easily be seen as immoral.

Jim Davies's picture

DP, I fear there might be some confusion here. You began with the analogy of the trespasser, and I hope my reply satisfied you on that one. Now you say that a contract exists (made when the woman had intercourse, presumably.) Is the contract with the fetus/baby? Or is it with the "laws of nature"?

If it was with the fetus, I think you'd have to demonstrate that it (or maybe both the egg and the sperm, in a tripartite contract?) understood its terms and gave free and uncoerced assent, as well as Momma (by the way, did Poppa sign this contract too?) Good luck with that one.

Or if it was with the laws of nature, I'm not sure that's possible. In fact you seem to admit that in part; "You cannot choose to make a contract with gravity." It seems to me that for a valid contract to exist, both parties must agree to it; but a law (whether of nature or even of the government) does not contemplate terms to be negotiated. It lays down a decree. In this case, the decree isn't even unambiguous; it has the form "have sex without precautions, and you may conceive." "May", not "will." And it nowhere adds "And if you do, you are commanded to do nothing to interfere."

Heck, even gravity can be defied with a parachute, opened after a descent begins.

tzo's picture

"If a woman did not want to be enslaved, she should not have performed a voluntary action that brings about known, natural consequences."

No one can surrender their inalienable right to freedom because they are, well, inalienable. Slave contracts are never valid, no matter who signs them.

Suverans2's picture

G'day tzo,

They are called in-ālien-able/un-ālien-able because a man can only be lawfully ālienated[1] from them via his own consent[2].

"You have rights antecedent to [prior to] all earthly governments, rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws..." ~ John Adams

[1] This is not to say that they cannot be unlawfully trespassed upon. When someone murders you, you have not lost your in-ālien-able/un-ālien-able right [to life]; you have not lost your "just claim" to life, you have lost your life.

[2] Forfeiture is an act of consent. If you attempt to murder someone, you, by that act, forfeit your "right to life", which is not to say that you won't still try to defend it, but rather you have lost your "just claim" to it by your actions.

DP_Thinker's picture

I denied that a fetus is a trespasser, especially when it had no choice in the matter of being brought on a womans property. (Tzo, this begs the question of who the slave really is? The mother or the fetus brought about by no fault of its own?) However, to illustrate the unilateral contract that exists, yes, unilateral, I used another analogy.

Unilateral example. If my dog ran away, and I posted a sign that said "10,000$ reward for safe return", I have entered into a contract with no particular person. But when someone shows up at my door with my dog, I have to fulfill my obligation.

Again, call it a contract or whatever you want but you have to abide by the laws of nature. If you jump without a parachute, you will suffer the consequences. The laws of nature dictate you cannot stop yourself from falling without having prepared earlier. In the same way, pregnancy (and I would love for one to demonstrate is not a law of nature) is a law of nature and the consequences are known. To use the "May" distinction that you used, you also may not kill yourself at a 15 foot drop. But at a 100 foot drop you are more than likely dead. With pregnancy, pull out and you might not have a problem. Go all in on ovulation day, your more than likely going to have a kid. It doesn't matter on the outcome. If I sit down to gamble, I may lose a lot of money. But when I bet that money, I am bound by the outcome. You cannot deny the laws of probability. The laws of probability also are in effect with conception.

Yes, gravity can be defied with a parachute, as pregnancy can with protection. However, you can't put a parachute on if you are in mid flight. You would have had to before the descent. Nice try with the "opened after a descent begins". You already took the precaution before you even jumped. Pregnancy would be the same, precaution needs to be taken prior.

Tzo, to take that further because I thought I made a point on your comment, if I commit an immoral crime against anothers property, and I am thrown in jail am I not "enslaved" due to my choice of committing the crime? I surrendered my "right" to freedom by my actions. Furthermore, "rights" are a concept, they do not exist as objects or in nature. They come about via ownership. I have ownership over my body, therefore I have rights. (see https://consentient.wordpress.com/do-you-have-the-right/)

I appreciate the dialogue on this issue, and hopefully we will find the logical truth by the end of this discussion. This is a contentious issue, and I hope we continue to take it further.

Jim Davies's picture

I join you in that appreciation and hope, DP. If I may, two quick responses:

1. I concede the possibility of a "unilateral contract" and an example appears in the "Children" page of http://TheAnarchistAlternative.info - it's the only way I can see of resolving the question of why a mother has obligation to nurture her child. Perhaps there's a better answer to that one, but a one-sided contract would fit. Note though that even there, she makes a deliberate and thoughtful decision, to commit most of two decades of her life to that huge task.

2. About "preparing" for consequences, nature has decreed that sex is often (always?) a spontaneous, impulsive action in which the boy and girl don't sit down and draw up a contract first. It is therefore incorrect to presume that they do. In particular, there are may young girls in the world whose hormones have begun to rage but who have no idea where babies come from. Forcefully to hold them to the presumption that they have taken due thought about consequences before they leap into bed is, IMHO, a particularly brutal form of cruelty to children.

That may not happen often in America, where government schools thrust sex-ed down the gullets of children at an ever-earlier age, but worldwide it does apply.

DP_Thinker's picture

Jim, I join in your questioning of impulse and relations of children who don't have the mind but have the hormones to make babies. It is hard to decide if that is due to lack of growth on the childs part or the parents, or a fact of nature.

This brings up another issue that can get hairy; that of a parent's duty to father or mother a child. If a man is tricked into getting a woman pregnant, does he then have to take the responsibility for that child? Can he be financially responsible for a child?

Our laws these days have made a mockery out of parental obligations IMHO..

As I learn more about voluntary parenting, and property rights I am trying to reconcile a child as being or not being the property of the parent. Maybe you have some insight?

Jim Davies's picture

You pose good questions, DP Thinker; and partly as a result, I've changed my mind about something I wrote yesterday. I said "I concede the possibility of a 'unilateral contract'" but now would like to withdraw that. I'll have to re-think the matter of a mother's obligation to raise her child - which relates to what you're asking.

The reason is that a contract is in its core essence an agreement between two or more parties, all of whom understand its terms and freely agree to them without coercion. To say otherwise, as I did, is a mis-use of language. Contracts will be of central importance in the coming free society, operating (whether written or oral) in every interaction between people; in radical contrast to what happens today. So it's important to take care when using the word.

One can "make oneself a promise" or perhaps better, form a "resolution". One can advertise an "offer" carrying an obligation, for example to sell a bike to anyone coming with a C-note to exchange. But one cannot make a contract without at least one other party signing on to it. So, back to parental obligations.

The zygote has no brain, so cannot possibly enter a contract. Therefore we're down to resolutions. The mother may resolve to proceed with the pregnancy and raise the child; an enormous undertaking, not to be entered lightly. Does she "own" the baby? - I'd say "yes" up to the time of birth, for it's part of her own body; but that after birth he or she is a separate human being, therefore with self-ownership rights. Obviously not able to manage without a lot of help, but still a self-owner. So no, after that moment a parent does not "own" the child. (There's a trick question: "if I own my child, can I sell him?")

Mixed in with parental responsibility is the matter of marriage. If two kids have sex and produce a baby, is the father obliged to marry the girl and help raise it? Even if the two quickly become incompatible and squabble all the time? What kind of an upbringing would _that_ give the child? - so it's all rather messy. All the more reason, to my mind, to leave the abortion option wide open, and of course to get government right out of the way so that those objecting to abortion can enter the scene and persuade the mother to allow adoption.

During childhood, parental responsibility and control starts necessarily strong, but decreases as the self-owning child matures. The "Children" page on http://TheAnarchistAlternative.info explores this a bit, and may be worth reading. However the part there in gold type about a half-contract will have to be modified.

Suverans2's picture

During childhood, parental responsibility and control starts necessarily strong, because the child is not yet responsible, and because he is not yet able to control himself.

The primary "parental responsibility" is to teach the child how to be responsible and self-controlling[1].

As the self-owning child shoulders more responsibility and learns to control (govern) himself, this "parental responsibility and control" should diminish, more or less, at the same rate.

[1] I would suggest, if you are a new parent, that you read, study and internalize this and this.

    The science of mine and thine - the science of justice - is the science of all human rights: of all a man's rights of person and property; of all his rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    It is the science which alone can tell any man what he can, and cannot, do; what he can, and cannot, have; what he can, and cannot, say, without infringing the rights of any other person.

    It is the science of peace; and the only science of peace: since it is the science which alone can tell us on what conditions mankind can live in peace, or ought to live in peace, with each other.

And, as soon as your child is old enough to communicate with words, begin teaching the rudiments to him.

DP_Thinker's picture

Jim, what would you say to this on the unilateral contract issue? The difference with the “offer” or “promise to one-self” is that it isn’t a promise to you; it is a promise to a future unnamed person. That future unnamed person usually has to perform the task you might have “offered”. You receive your dog back, they receive money. You receive your whole body back, they receive life. In this case, the fetus has been asked to simply exist. You can't withdraw your offer after the advertisement has been made if one shows up with your dog. (You can't withdraw the offer of life after the fetus is alive). I’ll have to think about that some more.

Another idea is that of a slave/slave owner relationship. You could tell your slave to leave your property, but you couldn’t just kill him instead. In the pregnancy case, you want the fetus to leave your property but they have no choice. I think the fetus can be considered like a slave as they have no control over their primordial property. That is the definition of slavery. One could say the mother is also involuntarily serving the needs of the fetus but like I said before she did voluntarily choose the action to bring about the situation. The slave (fetus) actually has no choice whether to leave or not from the womb. Therefore murder is justified?

I don’t agree with the conception argument that one “could” become human. A man’s sperm “could” also become a human. Is it then murder to masturbate? I think not...

I still think it’s logical to reconcile that if one performs an action, that has a natural and known consequence, they should be held accountable for those actions. But if you use the Galambos theory or “rightness”, that which is “right” is both moral and rational. That which is wrong is either immoral or irrational. If the fetus is truly the property of the Mother, then wouldn’t it be irrational to not be precautionary or make sure they do not get past the stage of the fetus being “human”? That would make it wrong. On the other hand, if the only definition of immoral is that of violating property then you can come to a different conclusion.

Jim Davies's picture

Agreed, DP, a resolution or promise to oneself is not the same thing as an open offer to an unknown person. But that person would exist and respond (bring the lost dog.) And the elements of that offer were specific; you advertised exact information and named a particular reward, with the deliberate intention of recovering the dog. Such factors are not necessarily present at all when intercourse takes place - pregnancy may just be an unintended consequence. And technically, the egg is not fertilized until some time _after_ the fun is over; so at the time the lady performs the act which you liken to advertising an offer, the entity that may respond does not actually exist at all. So I don't see the analogy as a good fit.

About the slave analogy, yes you could kill him if that was the only way to get him off your property. That's what property rights mean; minimal, necessary force, whether slave or someone else. It's the principle behind Walter Block's way of looking at this.

As for "murder", that's a term meaning to break a law by killing a human being. Neither applies here, and we look forward to a time when no laws will exist.

DP_Thinker's picture

Good points. What you said made me think some more. The difference with the slave not leaving the property and an abortion is the slave refuses to leave anothers property. He clearly is able to but chooses not to. A fetus is innocent of any wrongdoing. The fetus has no choice but to be put inside the womb. That would be like shooting a deaf and blind person who wandered onto your property and can't leave because they don't see nor hear you.. A true libertarian or anarcho-capitalist who believes in the NAP would help the person off the property, or in the case of pregnancy, help the fetus out of the womb. But not kill them.

As Murray Rothbard said:
"The fundamental axiom of libertarian theory is that no one may threaten or commit violence (“aggress”) against another man’s person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a non-aggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory."

I'm not sure how a fetus commits "aggressive violence" which justifies the self-defense argument or trespasser argument..

Or as Walter Block said:

"Libertarianism is a political philosophy. It [is] concerned solely with the proper use of force. Its core premise is that it should be illegal to threaten or initiate violence against a person or his property without his permission; force is justified only in defense or retaliation."

I don't see how the fetus is attacking the mother in order to justify retaliation. Is the mother retaliating against herself for her own actions? I don't think you can have self retaliation..

Suverans2's picture

Is there a logical reason why we can't edit on comments and replies, but can on private messages?

Suverans2's picture

Opinion: In the case of rape, the rapist commits "aggressive violence" against a female, which justifies the trespasser[1] argument, because the maiden, or woman, could not, or did not, consent to the act which created the zygote/embryo, in which case, she should have no more than 8 weeks to decide whether or not she will accept the responsibility for what will, on or about the end of the 8th week, become an human fetus.

fetus n. ...In humans, the unborn young from the end of the eighth week after conception to the moment of birth, as distinguished from the earlier embryo. (Source: American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)

This is evidently because at seven weeks it is still an embryo, which does not have a brain, but by the end of eight weeks (s)he, becomes an human fetus who, apparently, now does have a brain.

[1] trespass verb ▸to go into a place without the owner’s permission ~ Macmillan Dictionary

alexeth's picture

Are you offering that as definition of humanity? That fetus is human, but pre-fetus embryo is not?

Just clarifying if that was what you meant.

Any time-based definition is arbitray. This old, that old, this developed, that developed etc. He's human from conception, this is not arbitrary.

As far as the rape situation, the child cannot be held responsible for the crime of the father. The child still finds himself in existance without any role in coming into that existence with his own right to his own property of himself.


DP_Thinker's picture

How is one human from conception? I'm just curious what objective or absolute standard could be considered that determines the "at conception" argument. Personally I agree with your point of time-based definitions being arbitrary. But to be fair, human is human. Just because one can or most likely will be human does not make them human. Otherwise like I said before sperm can become human. (Think of all those murdered little spermlets...)

My point is, what at conception makes the embryo human? Is it the physical characteristics? The ability to reason? The fact they will have a brain or will become human? I also want to know how one can have property over himself, or 100% self-ownership when one is relying on the mother to feed and keep them alive via the umbilical cord? Hence can you say that a fetus has ownership? Ownership implies complete 100% control over property.


alexeth's picture

What else can a human be but human? When else can that be non arbitrarily defined but at conception? Before conception the pieces are not human. After conception, the DNA is complete and human. Time, growth, development, capacity, health and whatever other variation for the human does not take away his humanity.

Who else owns the human but himself? He may not be able to mix his labor (or even have any labor for that matter) or contract for other property, but self-ownership goes along with humanity. Dependence or control are not good definitions of the ability or right to own property. If you are sick, and you are dependant upon someone, do you forfeit your property rights? If so, then at what level of dependence? There is a lot of room for arbitrary interpretation there. Control has similar problems. Is there some point where a level of uncertainty implies a lack of control which justifies forfeiture of ownership? Even abandonment implies a forfeiture of property by the owner’s action, an act of will rather than lack of control.

There is certainly a tricky area of discussion on property issues of parents versus children, but any ethic is problematic where a child’s self-ownership is overridden enough that his parents can kill him.

DP_Thinker's picture

So you are saying that what makes a human, human is by the DNA? I think that argument has already been objectively refuted. Also, ownership implies rights and control. If one does not have ownership, one does not have 100% control or any rights that go with ownership. "Rights" do not exist. They are a concept. Can you show me them? (https://consentient.wordpress.com/do-you-have-the-right/)

I am not talking about forfeitures or control as being what brings about ownership and the "rights" that come with it. Control over property is a left anarchist position I disagree with completely. One can own property, not use it, and it is still his. The "mixing with labor" argument is false. In the same way, a baby could have ownership over his property, but in this case there is no way for a baby to have ownership with anything other than it's own property. But it's property isn't it's own. It is also the mothers as the baby is physically connected to the mother.

What I was saying by the aspect of the mother-baby connection is think of conjoined twins. Does one twin have complete control over himself? No. Though in that relationship they both must rely on each other to live. In the instance of pregnancy, only the child relies on the mother but the mother does not rely on the child. But they are physically connected. So I think the idea in that instance is that the baby is an extension of the mother. How can the baby have complete control if it cannot live without the aid of the mother. Now if a doctor CAN help a patient but chooses not to for other reasons, he is not committing a crime. In the same way, if a Mother CAN help a baby survive but doesn't, she is not committing a crime.

Two people cannot fully own one thing (in this case the mothers stomach). See (http://libertarianpapers.org/2011/38-dyke-block-conjoined-twins/). So if the Mother chooses to stop eating, is she (as she has ownership over her stomach) committing a crime? Absolutely not. Her stomach is her property. She owns it and hence has complete control over it. Or has she given up ownership of her body? If she has, at what point does that take place? Conception?

I look forward to your feedback on this.

alexeth's picture

>>I think that argument has already been objectively refuted.<<

Then that's that then.

>>"Rights" do not exist. They are a concept.<<

Okay. Not much point in discussing property rights then if they don't exist.

>>The "mixing with labor" argument is false. <<

>>In the same way, a baby could have ownership over his property, but in this case there is no way for a baby to have ownership with anything other than it's own property. But it's property isn't it's own.<<

Someone does not own themself? Who owns them?

Well, DP, I cannot argue with the previous assertions. These sound like "you're wrong" without argument.

On the physical connection arguments...

There is certainly shared ownership of their body in the instance of the twins, but neither "owns" the other's self. They are different people, attached physically. If their partnership shifts from equal to dependence, does the one depending on the other become a lesser human, who's rights are diminished by their dependence? What is that dividing line where dependence of someone causes them to forfiet their self-ownership to they upon whom they depend? And who determines what that dividing line is? That's a very dangerous argument for anyone who believes in liberty.

Moving to the mother child, >>In the same way, if a Mother CAN help a baby survive but doesn't, she is not committing a crime. << So neglict is not a crime, and a mother owes nothing to her child, not even the right to find a new caretaker? There's definitely rich room for discussion of parental responsibility. It would appear your argument is that at any time a parent can starve their child to death. Is there anything preventing the quicker death by a blow to the head? Is the difference the willful action versus the willful inaction?

The mother endures a tresspass as soon as she decides she doesn't want the child. If her right to her body outweighs the right of another human to their own existence, then she can kill him as easily as you can kill someone who falls onto your property from a plane and is too injured to leave without assistance.

I may not like that argument, but that is logically consistent. It would seem I am holding an implied "primacy of property" sort of argument. Perhaps articulated as ownership of self outweighs ownership of items other than self. Maybe similar to an older title taking precedence or a more recent title to a property. But, having not given those a lot of thought, I'd defer to your ethic that killing someone dependent upon me is okay for me, or killing someone who is tresspassing is okay whether by action or inaction.

DP_Thinker's picture

You bring up some good points and I apologize if I came off as being "absolute" in my assertions..

Let's see if we can come up with some solutions to the following and then we can go further:

What is morality?
Does a moral imperative exist?
Am I acting immoral if my neighbors house is burning down and I do not help put out the fire?
Can inaction be considered action?

If one can come to agreement on the above questions, I think one can come to agree on most problems.

With the property argument, what I was trying to say is that yes, rights can "exist" if you will in concept, and they come about via ownership. You have no rights in anything, but you can do what you want with what you own, hence we call that a concept called a "right". My issue is with the umbilical cord. Who owns it? Does the mother or the baby? Who owns the Mothers stomach? Ownership implies 100% control over property.

Glock27's picture

Greetings DPthinker,

This discussion will go on infinitely. Is it solvable? Maybe--Maybe not! I notice there are a number at STR whom disagree with when a human being becomes a human being and not a wart or frog. The argument that a zygote has no brain is not completely correct, for the DNA material contains the information to form the brain and all other parts. That's part of the reason for mitosis. I think the real issue is not abortion, but "Whats the right thing to do" prescribed by natural law--what would a reasonable person do, to quote judicial law. Facts drive the case, as one attorney pointed out to me many years ago. The fact that both parties engaged in the act of copulation must know that she is going to probably get pregnate when they are finished with their fevered lust: just as I know my anger ends at the tip of your nose. If not, then I must bear the consequences. I get the crap beat out of me or I get arrested for assault and battery.
I fear the issue of abortion will never end, nor will it stop.

alexeth's picture

I was disappointed to not see Jim “begin with a premise, progress from it in logical steps, and … arrive at a conclusion.” Still, it’s a nice article and a nice survey of solid libertarian authors on the subject. I appreciate it, Jim.

What makes us human? Biologically, our DNA differentiates humans from other creatures. There might be other ways to describe humans, but the only non-arbitrary marker is that DNA.
When are we then human? It is when that first instance of fully human DNA comes to exist. That’s conception. Before it is human DNA it is not yet human DNA, but two halves. After it is human DNA it is human DNA. A human in its earliest form. Anything else is arbitrary. Age, reasoning capacity, independence, viability, etc. are all arbitrary, subject to change with changes in technology, opinion, circumstance and whim.
Who owns the human? Humans own themselves. A human is his own first property. Other property can be gained by his labor or by transaction, etc. He cannot un-own himself. His life is his first property. Property that is defensible according to the principle of non-aggression.
The youngest human owns himself. At the moment of conception, that ownership is established. In that instant, there is no aggression by this young human against the surroundings. Even if his existence was made possible by violence, he is not an aggressor, merely the child of an aggressor. He can be evicted, but not aggressively, not by taking his life. Just as certainly, the child has no right to take the life of the mother.

From conception a human exists and owns himself. A society that honors libertarian principle of non-aggression cannot tolerate the aggression that takes this first property from him. Any mother seeking eviction of another human can only do so without stealing his first and only property.

Back to Reasoning animal since it was a specific definition offered. Reasoning is sufficient to establish humans as claiming property as a group. Anyone who is human is therefore reasoning, even if they have not yet (or due to illness never have) developed that reasoning function. An individual human is human as soon as they are human, which is at conception.

Back to DNA since someone will say "a dead cell has DNA and is not human". Obviously a living organism with human DNA is a human, not a single cell that is only a part. Also damaged DNA doesn't change its humanness, (e.g. Downs).

Jim Davies's picture

You wrote "I was disappointed to not see Jim “begin with a premise, progress from it in logical steps, and … arrive at a conclusion.” Still, it’s a nice article and a nice survey of solid libertarian authors on the subject. I appreciate it, Jim."

Sorry you were partly disappointed, Alexeth. Perhaps I should have made it clearer.

Most of "Abortion" is about the three interesting viewpoints reviewed, but at the end I did offer "My take" and there began with "I suggest for a premise that a human being is a reasoning animal." I took logical steps from that premise by noting that a zygote cannot reason and therefore is not a human person in the sense of being able to enter contracts, enjoy rights, undertake responsibilities etc. The conclusion is rather obvious, I thought.

You take, with Butler Shaffer, the different premise that once the DNA is assembled, the result is a human person - you're defining a human that way. You therefore reach a different conclusion. I hope all the same that you'll join Shaffer and me in the most important aspect of this: that use of force against the mother is to be avoided. And may I again encourage a read of "Abortion: a Market Solution?"

alexeth's picture

Jim, my apologies for not recognizing the “reasoning animal” premise as starting the logical progression. I’m sure I mistook it for responses to the other quoted viewpoints. I see now I was mistaken.

I would still say that “reasoning animal” is an arbitrary definition and leaves many humans outside the definition, the most obvious being the mentally ill.

I agree use of force against the mother is to be avoided. Even if she is guilty of violence against a human, she’s also a victim of abortion – a miscarriage even if on purpose. Very sad.

Thanks for the pointer to the article “Abortion: a Market Solution?” I’ve also thought that a market solution would apply. Advocates who want to save the child could offer compensation to the mother for recovery/birth/adoption depending on the contract. These costs would likely be lowered by technology allowing earlier and earlier recovery of the child with less and less inconvenience to the mother. Some social organizations may have that stipulated in their community contracts, or some families may have it in their health-care plans, or whatever. It would actually be easy for the payment to the mother to outbid abortion costs for the mother, especially if stemming from a moral crusade to save the life of the child. For those set on abortion, the price would be driven pretty low by that dynamic.

It is clever to look at the idea of having pitchfork-crowd carry the cost of incarceration of the mother/murderer, a way to “put up or shut up” for them. In a true free market who would they be protesting to? There’s no monopoly force application entity to act upon their protests to incarcerate the mother. The protestors really have no standing. Even if they could put up the money, there still cannot be a slave market of incarcerating someone for a price. The security/medical contracts would be with the mother and her family and the others would not be party. Even a conservative family would not have a security contract that stipulated incarceration for a family member in the event of an abortion. I can’t see even larger community contracts having such a stipulation for the same reason. (There’s an interesting side-trail on this about family or community contracts upon minors that transition to adulthood). I suppose large self-contained community entities (I’m thinking church or family based) would probably have a punishment setup, but it still is not going to be a jail, they’re going to take care of this woman, even if they think her abortion was killing the child. The sad exceptions are a problem, those communities that do have incarceration clauses for abortion in their contracts or practices that leaves a girl without recourse. I’ve more than rambled on this at this point.

Back to the offering entity. I think you lumped them with protestors, but I think there would be the pitchfork crowd saying “jail her!” but a different group, the “rescuers”, who would be offering the money to rescue the child. They’re very different people.

On the “pricing life” concern, that’s a herring. So many use that flawed argument to justify limiting the market, especially in the area of safety. “Even if it saves one life it will be worth it” or “nothing is more important than safety”. BS. It is priced like anything else, and isn’t trading in life. The rescuers are not buying a life. The seller might even feel like she’s putting one over on them. If she thinks she’s just selling some non-human bio-matter to the gullible live-saver crowd. Which brings up another interesting rabbit trail, that there could be purposeful pregnancies to sell the kids on this rescuer market (or the regular adoption market for that matter).

It’s actually a rich area of discussion, and I apologize for such a long rambling. The market, when left alone, really does address most anything. An entity that can force a group upon another truly creates more problems than it solves, even for the problems that prompting group was trying to solve.

Suverans2's picture

G'day alexeth,

You wrote: "I agree use of force against the mother is to be avoided. Even if she is guilty of violence against a human, she’s also a victim of abortion – a miscarriage even if on purpose. Very sad."

With all due respect, I would point out that, technically, the correct term for "destroying an embryo or fetus in the womb", "on purpose", is aborticide, as in homicide, suicide, genocide, etc., and not abortion.

Suverans2's picture

A newborn, too, "cannot reason and therefore is not a human person in the sense of being able to enter contracts, enjoy rights, undertake responsibilities etc. The conclusion is rather obvious..."

    Is it okay, then, in your opinion, to murder a newborn human up until it becomes "a human person in the sense of being able to enter contracts, enjoy rights, undertake responsibilities etc."?

On another note...

"...human person..."? Is the word human, in that strange phrase, an adjective, Jim, or are we talking about "personhood"?

Personhood is the status of being a person. Defining personhood is a controversial topic in philosophy and law, and is closely tied to legal and political concepts of citizenship, equality, and liberty. ~ Wikipedia

Glock27's picture

Greetings Jim,

Sweeping definition regarding the zygote much less DNA. Again, I have never consideed the human being to be a rational organism--imaginative, emotional and at times applying common sense, but rational. As I take to imaginative and emotional and sometimes common sense, like some whom take to rational ultimately arrises from an emotional basis or even an imaginative bases, utilizing some common sense to arrive at a decision and decisions are not rational.
It is my hope you will discover this comment and provide an instructional thesis regarding it.


Jim Davies's picture

I'm surprised at that, Glock. Rather obvious, I'd have thought.

Not for a moment to suggest that emotion and imagination and all such good things are not _also_ part of our essential makeup, of course! But the _distinguishing_ feature of our species is that we reason.

Other animals reason too, but we do it more and better by one or two orders of magnitude. That is why only homo sapiens figured out how to discover electrons and design computers so that you would be able to make your remarks visible to thousands of readers worldwide within a few milliseconds of your hitting SEND.

Other animals have other attributes (smell, "intuition"...) much superior to ours, but reason is where we beat the lot of them, hands down. Tragically, government tries its best to suppress it, to "dumb us down" - so that your perception that many people apply common sense only "at times" isn't far off the mark.

Glock27's picture

Thank you Jim. I deeply appreciate the remark with all sincerity. When people vote for president they seldom if ever vote in relationship to the mans character, but rather the lies he tells us. If he is handsome many women swoon to vote. When I voted I tried to garner the character of the man; is he true to his word and what has he done to demonstrate that quality, and etc. No one I ever voted for ever won. I have finally given up on the idea that voting was my way of self-defense but now see it is more self-destruction. I think of all Boehner spit out about how poor he was and how hard he had to work and now the turns his back on the American people. I will not give up my assault in writing to them and telling them what idiots they are. With all the materials I have gathered here and there I have plenty to assault with.

Glock27's picture

Greetings alexth,

May I disagree with the "Reasoning", rational part of the term for human beings. Hasnas (pointed to me by Samirami) takes the position that we are not rational, reasoning beings, but rather "Imagining humans". I hope I have this correct, for as I read his material I took to the idea. I have never believed that humans were really rational, but rather functioned on an emotional basis. Since reading Hasnas' material I must change positions in believing humans are imaginative, imagining all sorts of things, but I, too, must leave room for the emotional response, since over a large portion of decision making is performed on an emotional basis; possibly springing initially from an imaginative point of view. There are occasions when humans can be rational but probably not as much as we want to give credit to.
Please remember I am merely challenging the term "rational human being", not your proposition--seems like solid reasoning or imaginative perspective, which I concede. When the two strands of DNA merge, connecting together an entirely new human being is evolving at that point in time.

I must contend that all at STR continue to evolve through discussion of this nature. I am discovering that this ideology is not a settled thing; it continues to grow and evolve itself.

P.S. I, more than likely will not be returning to this section. Should you wish to respond please feel free to contact me with a PM. I would be pleased to be more enlightened regarding the term.


Jim Davies's picture

Thanks to all who took part in this long and lively exchange. It has caused me to re-think one aspect of the subject.

I plan no further posts here, and suggest http://www.theanarchistalternative.info/zgb/cassidy.htm may draw a useful line under the subject. Whatever our perception of the morality of abortion, I hope we all agree to want government 100% out of the whole area. This sad case, of which news just appeared, illustrates why.

Jim Davies's picture

After a year and a quarter, I see that Professor Block has published a "rejoinder" to Becky Akers, Butler Shaffer and myself on this subject; here's the link.
I'm not presently inclined to prolong the discussion, but notice his closing paragraph with respect to the article above. It begins:
"Davies (2012) is a very strange kind of anarchist. He equates this state of affairs with the entire absence of all law: “In the future, when government has vanished there will be no mechanism for imposing anything on everyone else."
"No, no, a thousand times no..."
Anarchism is by definition the absence of a ruler, ie one who imposes his will on other people; the reader can therefore judge easily whether it is Block or myself who is a "strange kind of anarchist."
Nothing I've written about justice in a free society should, of course, allow the impression that wrongs will not be put right - but that process must not be confused, as I fear Block is doing, with "law." Laws are opinions, backed by force. They are irreconcilable with freedom, and I repeat as above: when there is no government, there will be no law.

Glock27's picture

Just curious, but how many wrongs does it take to put them right? How long does one have to suffer the injustice until justice is served.