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Can anyone share some source information about any notable libertarian positions involving those occasions where scarcity exists only due to a localized scenario; i.e. If Person A is dying of thirst, and Person B has a bottle of water available - is it ethical for Person A to take the water, and then replace it shortly thereafter?

This question is related to an interesting post discussing the handling of a vaccine to save someone, where it is only available from someone's private source. [LINK]

While I am familiar with the Libertarian position that no government should assert any power over an individual, does this position hold up in a case where the scarcity can be alleviated relatively quickly? In other words, is it ethical to take something in a desperate situation if you are able to exactly replace it in full with minimal delay.

Is this a similar vulnerability for libertarianism as Nozick's "Utility Monster" was to utilitarianism? [LINK] I would argue yes because individual freedom is to Libertarianism as utility is to Utilitarianism. The will to live is perhaps the highest tenant required for freedom; e.g. a slave can be freed, but death is irrevocable.

1) Individual Freedom : Libertarianism :: Utility : Utilitarianism.

2) Preservation of life for one striving to live is a requirement to preserve freedom.

3) With the correction any inequality, the impact of any freedom lost to the original owner is nullified.

Can anyone share some insight as to the Libertarian position?

Please note some specifics.

  • I have specified water in the example because it is in abundance and can be collected with no financial means.

  • This variation differs because the scarcity is only about the immediate proximity. Not price, universal scarcity of resources, or control of the means of production.

  • In this example the original owner of the water was not in need of the water.

  • Interesting analogy between the freedom monster and the utility monster. However, I can see the vagueness of the concept of "minimal delay" leading to problems with you argument. If it is acceptable that I replace your water in one hour, than why is not acceptable in 12 hours, or one day, or week? – Alexander S King Aug 22 '16 at 14:23
  • @AlexanderSKing Thus the concept of interest... With its corresponding crime of usury. There is probably a way to break this all down to 'the money value of time'. But you can't make someone play a part, unless something in your ethics allows coercion. So the Libertarians can never get us to adopt their position, we just have to say 'I am free to act otherwise, and you cannot infringe my freedom'. – jobermark Aug 22 '16 at 19:09
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    There's more than one kind of libertarian. For Nozick, Rand and Rothbard in the above scenario they would put property rights before human lives, whereas moderate libertarians such as Friedman and Hayek would not. – user22244 Aug 23 '16 at 1:53
  • @AlexanderSKing I see your point, but there are realistic scenarios that could provide an ideal reimbursement of near immediacy and relative simplicity. I am just trying to find referential material that established the true boundary for the Libertarian position. – PV22 Aug 23 '16 at 2:05
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(Since it seems to have confused at least one person, Libertarianism per se is a political philosophy and not an ethics. Whether your ethics should override politics in any given situation is another point, for another time.

If Libertarianism is the framing, this is a political philosophy question, and it is not so much about Person A's individual action, but about whether the social contract should allow for it as an approved option.

I am adopting a notion of social contract, in which social contracts that make it difficult to be ethical should be avoided in principle as they are too hard on the populace psychologically.)

You don't need anything that elaborate to defeat Libertarianism.

The problem with Libertarianism is already captured in Nozick's concession that violence may be necessary to secure personal property.

If the rest of us decide to adopt a different set of rights, which do not include absolute rights to personal property, the only way the Libertarian can have his absolute right to personal property is through violence.

The violence required on his part is no more noble than the violence we would assert to enforce our chosen set of rights. But he seems to think that he has the sole right to determine the legal structure, by some gift of clairvoyance that makes his chosen set of minimal rights more trustworthy than any other.

You need some more complex and humane method of negotiating the local social contract than absolute fiat based on what comes naturally to a toddler. It needs to somehow accommodate a majority opinion on various things, including deprivation and health.

Most mature social contracts we have encountered do contain the equivalent of the legal standard of depraved indifference. If you keep water from someone dying of thirst, even if they manage not to die in spite of you, you are not welcome to be an American, because our social contract compels some actions, whether or not Libertarians think it should. We will declare you temporarily outside our contract, and we will imprison you and keep you from your private property.

  • "Most mature social contracts we have encountered do contain the equivalent of the legal standard of depraved indifference." But if they don't contain this clause, then it's morally okay to deprive people of water? And many social contracts could contain nuanced terms and loopholes: if Person A is a criminal on the run, and society states that you should not help criminals...even if that criminal is to die of thirst, then it would be a violation of the contract to help out Person A, and Person B would get "temporarily declared outside of our contract" if he dares to violate it. – Left SE On 10_6_19 Aug 24 '16 at 18:00
  • @TariqAli Sorry for the original comment. While I still find your reaction pointlessly sarcastic, I have edited the answer to address your confusion. – jobermark Aug 24 '16 at 18:59
  • Your edits successfully addressed my confusion. Thanks, @jobermark. – Left SE On 10_6_19 Aug 24 '16 at 19:02
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The question is what would libertarian morality say to a person who wonders whether it is morally permissible for him to save his own life by taking a bottle of water, which belongs to someone else. The situation is such that the parched person cannot gain the consent of the bottle owner (either the owner is not there or refuses to give him although she does not need the water), and he plans to compensate the bottle owner with a new bottle asap.

The answer by Guill is called hard (or hard-line) libertarianism (term a la Richard Arneson), which is majorly associated with Ayn Rand's idea. For hard-line libertarianism, the consent of the right holder is sacrosanct. The parched man cannot obtain the consent of the bottle owner, thus taking the bottle is morally impermissible. The hard-line libertarian will have to say that the parched man may not take the bottle, and the morally right thing for him to do is to die of thirst.

Surely, hard-line libertarians are cold-hearted, as Jobermark remarks, "If you keep water from someone dying of thirst, even if they manage not to die in spite of you, you are not welcome to be an American." Not only being callous, hard-line libertarianism is impractical. Things happen in life where obtaining consent is infeasible when one tries to bring about morally desired or permissible acts (e.g., the right holder is unconscious, demented, deranged, or absent).

Does this mean that, as alanf asserts, "you can take anything you want. You might have to pay compensation afterward or something like that." Can compensation replace the absence of consent for liberatarians? That is, is it morally permissible to infringe upon the rights of others on the condition that full compensation to the injured right-bearer is made? This is the question that Nozick, an academic libertarian as opposed to the populist libertarian Ayn Rand, tackled in his Anarchy, State, and Utopia.

Noizick understands that the infringement of some rights without the consent of the right holder sometimes is morally permissible if appropriate compensation is made. Nozick, however, asserts that compensation cannot substitute for the omission of consent. The reason, according to Nozick, is that the allowance of after-the-fact compensation will distort the system of fair distribution of the benefits of voluntary exchange, which is the backbone of Nozick's entitlement theory of distributive justice and private property. Once you took my stuff and used it, it becomes hard to determine what is the appropriate level of compensation. The shape of transaction before and after the event will be quite different. The parched man might have gladly paid $10 for the bottle Nozick owned, but now that he is no longer thirsty, he might offer Nozick $1 as a compensation, the price at a grocery store. This transaction, according to Nozick, is unfair.

Given the potential conflict with his entitlement theory, Nozick avoids to offer a clear guideline for the moral permissibility of right infringement in a non-consent situation with full compensation. The current goal of libertarians is how to become a bleeding heart libertarian (e.g., Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi).

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It is not ethical for person A to take (item) from person B, without person B's consent, regardless of how quickly the item is returned/replaced.

  • Is it ethical for Person A to die of thirst? – PV22 Aug 23 '16 at 0:06
  • What does the "****" indicate? – Dave Aug 23 '16 at 12:20
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Can anyone share some source information about any notable libertarian positions involving those occasions where scarcity exists only due to a localized scenario; i.e. If Person A is dying of thirst, and Person B has a bottle of water available - is it ethical for Person A to take the water, and then replace it immediately.

This is a puzzling example. If you can replace the bottle immediately, why do you need it? Just get the bottle from the source from which you would have obtained the replacement.

But in any case, sure you can take anything you want. You might have to pay compensation afterward or something like that. Or maybe the owner would be sympathetic and not insist on compensation. Morality, including property rights, is about how to live your life, not a rigid set of rules for mechanically making every decision. If you take the bottle then you might want to ask yourself how you ended up in the stupid situation of having to steal a bottle of water. It's not that difficult to spot deserts: they're the big things full of sand and they're very hot. Prepare before you go in, or just avoid them.

This question is related to an interesting post discussing the handling of a vaccine to save someone, where it is only available from someone's private source.

In general, you don't have a right to medical care. If a vaccine takes a long time and a lot of money to make, then the manufacturer has to charge a lot to get his money back, so he can keep making it and maybe improve it and make it cheaper. If you want to increase availability of medical treatment there would be many ways of reducing the cost, most of which involve the government getting out of the way. See books such as "The Primal Prescription": I don't completely endorse this book since I think it endorses food fads but it illustrates a lot of the problems created by government intervention in medicine. If you're going to say the person is holding the vaccine out of meanness or whatever, then in general companies don't create medical labs on a whim and any executive who tries to use them for a whim has a high risk of being fired and/or sued.

The utility monster is an illustration of the stupidity of utilitarianism, not of liberty, and it also contradicts basic economics. There isn't a measurable quantity called utility that can be compared across different people. Rather, each person ranks the means and ends available to him and if he would choose option A over option B, then we say A has more utility, but that has no meaning outside the context of an individual choice.

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