Re: Property rights (was Re: Can't afford to rescue cows)

From: Tim Freeman (
Date: Sat Apr 26 2008 - 10:18:25 MDT

From: Samantha Atkins <>
>Sort of without formalism. If you respect individual intelligent beings
>at all you in some sense respect a core of private property, the beings
>own self and right to exist.

If I understand you right, this does not include my CD (that is,
music) collection, since that has essentially no connection to my self
or right to exist. I agree that my self and right to exist are good
things to preserve, and likewise yours too. However, the normal
meaning of property rights seems to imply that I get to keep my CD
collection unless I voluntarily transfer it elsewhere, but I don't see
how your argument is getting there.

>Given that much some modicum of property is essential to existence,
>at least some amount of space, shelter, energy, food and so on.

I thought property rights meant that if you made enough bad trades, or
you start out from a bad-enough position, you could find yourself
without food or a way to get food because all the food is property of
someone else, so you starve to death. You seem to be saying that
respecting people implies making sure they don't starve to death. I
tend to agree with you (except I would call it compassion, but that
difference isn't essential here), but that's not what I understood
property rights to mean.

>Given that we are talking about an intelligent being part of the
>respect is for the being to do its own thinking, act on its thinking
>and experience consequences (learn).

So far so good.

>Out of freedom to act and experience consequence comes freedom of
>association with others ...

I'm still following you...

>...and freedom to make voluntary agreements/exchanges (trade).

...and I lost you there. The only property rights you mentioned so
far are the ones essential to my survival, so how do you get from
there to rationalizing the assertion that I own my CD collection and
it shouldn't be transferred to someone else without my consent?

Let's have a pair of concrete scenarios.

Scenario A: I'm sitting in a restaurant eating a meal. There's a
hungry guy sitting outside. Property rights seems to say that if I
pay for my meal, I get to eat it, and a powerful AI that supports
property rights won't transfer the meal to the hungry guy no matter
how hungry he is.

Scenario B: There's a hungry guy who owns a meal he is about to eat.
He's distracted and I steal the meal from him and eat it. If the AI
supports property rights, presumably the AI should have stopped me.

The difference between these scenarios is who owns the meal. How can
we specify an algorithm that looks at the history leading up to these
points and computes who owns what?

Do we want the AI to respect property rights, or do we want the AI to
be willing to feed the hungry guy if he's hungry enough, nevermind the
property rights?

Tim Freeman      

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