Intimidation by Confusion: The Case of Natural Rights and Self-Ownership

Many commentators try to invalidate the concept of self-ownership by using slavery as a purported contradiction to the self-ownership of slaves. This is a mistake. The following conversation on a recent blog post by Robert Wenzel, Designed Rights versus Natural Rights, is illustrative of the common misconception when it comes to the concept of natural self-ownership. It is also illustrative of a rhetorical technique I call intimidation by confusion. Below is an excerpt from the blog conversation between Wenzel, an unnamed supporter of Wenzel's view, and myself. I will let the reader judge who is using intimidation by confusion as a rhetorical technique here.

Predrag Rajsic February 16, 2013 at 10:16 AM
The slave owner may control the consequences of slave's actions, but it is still the slave that chooses his own actions based his own evaluation of those consequences. In that sense, the slave's self-ownership is no different than any other individual's self-ownership.


So you would be in favor of slaves because they "own themselves" in your view?

Who cares what I would be in favour of. My point was that the concept of natural rights is independent of actual human relations. 


You are shifting the conversation. You said "slave's self-ownership is no different than any other individual's self-ownership."

Wenzel, thus, has a very legitimate question, just how does self-ownership work, if it exists for a slave?

You are attempting to shift the debate. You did not say "the concept of natural rights is independent of actual human relations," you said slaves have self-ownership.

Do you still believe this? 

No, I don't think I am shifting the debate. The debate is not about my beliefs or preferences. It is about the concept of natural rights. I think I explained above the context in which the slave's natural self-ownership is defined. It is defined by the existence of slave's choosing of his own actions. It is not defined by slave's relationship with the slave owner. If it was, the concept of natural rights would depend on the specifics of every particular situation. The idea implied in my first comment was that the existence of natural rights does not depend on the particulars of a situation, so there is no inconsistency here.

So, if there is anyone shifting the conversation here, it is the one who asked if "I would favor slaves" because "they 'own themselves'". (I am guessing "slaves" was supposed to be "slavery" here.) I may favour slavery because slaves own themselves or I may favour slavery for hundred other reasons. I also may oppose slavery because slaves own themselves if I dislike their self-ownership as is defined above. However I decide to form my preferences around slavery, it has nothing to do with whether or not natural rights exist independently of the relationship between two humans.

Even you, The Cleaner, finish your post with asking about my beliefs. If I am not mistaken, you are asking if I believe slaves have natural self-ownership. So, you are asking me if I believe slaves have free will, because insofar as they have free will, they have self-ownership. Do I know if anyone, including myself, has free will? I don't. Do I believe humans, including slaves, have free will? Yes. But, who cares about my beliefs. It is flattering to know that someone does care, but my beliefs are not the topic here. Or are they?

I am still waiting for a reply.


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