Human Nature

If you missed How Best to Use TOLFA please go there now, and return after reading that page.

"Freedom" means the ability to manage one's own life. Therefore it contrasts with having one's own life controlled by someone else; for example, government.

We shall discover in TOLFA that freedom is the right, natural and proper way that humans ought to live; that all of us are "born free, yet everywhere live in chains."

By "right and natural" is meant that personal freedom is the only condition that fits human nature and TOLFA will show in depth that that claim is true - that no other possibility exists, consistent with intellectual integrity. This Segment does that in three steps.

1. Humans Reason

Quick, say what is your present idea about what human beings are, essentially:

Humans are just animals with big brains. The ideas of right and wrong, and of rights and purposes, is so much fantasy. We are mere protoplasm, seeking to amuse itself.
Humans are very special creations, made in the image of God - who created everything in the whole Universe. We gain fulfillment only when we find out what He desires for our lives, and then follow that divine plan.
The human species has developed an unique ability to reason, as well as refining attributes like love, purpose, conscience. Our defining characteristic is that we are rational, to a degree that no other animal comes close.

So, humans are first and foremost a species that lives in large part by reason. But in that case, what part is to be played by authority and custom or tradition?

Such things are part of what humans have discovered and thought, and so take their place alongside all other factors to be evaluated by reason. But they have no special status; one's own reasoning must be paramount.
Customs and traditions and myths, even, are part of the fabric of human understanding of the subject being considered and should be held in the utmost respect and given precedence over one's own reasoning power.
Authority represents the accumulation of human wisdom and all one's reasoning should be performed only within the boundaries set by the experts in the subject being considered.

Before continuing from there, let's make sure we understand clearly what "reason" means. We often use, without much care, a phrase like "That seems reasonable" when what's really meant is "That fits my present beliefs"! Reason - rationality - is something very different.

Reason involves a premise, and a process of logic.

A premise is a starting-point, from which subsequent steps of logic are taken. Often we hear "where you stand depends on where you sit" and that's the meaning; if one starts with the premise that only baseball players with white skins can be considered (yes, it happened not long ago!) one is quite likely to reason through to a very different answer for "who is the best baseball player?" than if the premise held skin color irrelevant. Very often the tiresome "debates" on TV involve talking heads with premises quite different from each other - so it's little wonder they end up in different places.

A rational discussion, or line of reasoning, should start from a stated premise. It may be right or wrong (and the resulting conclusion will depend on that) but a sound process of logic should then lead everyone from it to the same single conclusion.

One key premise that's implicit in all of TOLFA is that things are what they are or, more simply, A is A. If an action hurts somebody else who has posed no threat to the actor, we call it "aggression" for that is what it is; no matter what name the actor may give it so as to excuse or justify his action, A is A - he is an aggressor. If several centuries of observation, measurement and reasoning prove that the earth orbits the sun, then despite contrary and authoritative but unsupported opinions, myths and traditions that's the way it really is; A is A.

A special kind of premise is an axiom - the sort that cannot be denied. It's not that an axiom can be verified or falsified, for that would call for some axiom more primitive, upon which to build such a proof; rather, an axiom is self-evidently true - or more accurately, undeniable. The philosopher Ayn Rand put it well: a premise is an axiom if, in order to try to deny it explicitly, it is necessary to assume it implicitly.

An example of an axiom is "I exist." It cannot be denied because the moment the speaker says "I do not exist" he is contradicting the obvious, namely that he has a mouth with which to form those words; entities that do not exist do not have mouths! In other words, he must implicitly confirm that he does exist, in the very act of trying explicitly to deny it - hence the premise is true, ie an axiom. This is very important, as we'll see shortly.

The process of logic then consists of a series of steps of the form "if A, therefore B" and lead eventually to a conclusion or proof. If Bush knew in 2003 that Saddam had no WMDs, then he was lying. If Windows always works well, then Microsoft employs some good software writers and therefore we can expect the next MS product to have good quality. Given that acceleration due to gravity is 32 feet per second per second (that's the premise) if I fall from a tall building, then I shall travel down at over 100 mph, and therefore the impact with the sidewalk will break many bones and therefore I'll probably die.

A line of reasoning can and should be tested, for example:

The importance of this for TOLFA is huge, so let's take a few moments to make certain it's clear. See if you can tell which of the following statements are true:

My lawn is green. Therefore, all lawns are green.
It is axiomatic that all men called Jack have red hair.
The desk is too heavy for one person to lift. Therefore, at least two people will be needed to raise it.

So much then for the fact that humans are animals who depend on and extensively use reason, and for what "reason" means. Now we can move on to...

2. Reasoning includes making action decisions

Reason, as understood above, not only solves puzzles - it includes forming decisions for action. Trucks are approaching fast, therefore I will wait before crossing the road. That job opportunity fits my skills and talents, therefore I will apply for it. That company is well-managed and has shown a sound record of profit-making, therefore I will buy its shares. We have many interests in common, she is beautiful and I love her passionately, therefore I will ask her to marry me. We do this all the time, usually without realizing we're using reason to decide how to spend our lives.

Something rationally follows from this: it is (literally) reasonable to enquire whether we have the power (as well as this ability) to make reasoned, action decisions for ourselves; that is, whether human beings are self-owners. We will now use reason to address that key question - and first, let's clarify: "self-ownership" does not imply that "I" the owner am somehow separate from "myself" as the owned object, but that "I-myself" am integrated as a whole being, self-contained and self-directed.

3. Are human beings self-owners?

Many animals are not self-owners, but rather are members of a hive or herd or pack and function only in that capacity. Bees prosper only if they work in a strict hierarchy by instinct; none of them (as far as we can tell) buzzes around reasoning whether to get honey that day, and where from, and whether to contribute the haul to the hive or to gorge it all himself. Wolves have a hierarchy in a pack, again they are hard-wired to behave that way. But humans are as we've seen reasoning animals; we figure things out logically and take decisions accordingly and all of that is or can be done independently of what other humans decide; others' decisions may affect what you choose, but it's still your choice.

So let's use reason to test the idea that we each own ourselves, as proposed on the Benefits Page at Question 1 (close it, to return here) and let's see whether or not this premise is also an axiom - something undeniable.

The test, remember, is: do I have to assume the premise implicitly, in order to try to deny it explicitly? So let's try to deny this premise, by saying "No, I do not own myself."

Oops! Immediately, there are problems. First, how dare you express an opinion about who owns you, if in fact you don't own yourself? - you'd have no right even to open your mouth without permission, let alone pronounce a profound judgment! And second and even worse, if ownership (the right to decide, to direct, to control) of a human person is not vested in the person himself, then it must be vested in someone else. Who?

Some other person, maybe. But in that case how did he acquire such ownership rights? This was the nonsense underlying slavery; "owners" bought slaves at the "market", from shippers who never owned the transported Africans in the first place - they had merely kidnapped them. Certainly, the slaves' self- ownership was being horribly denied in practice, but it was there anyway by right. So no, you cannot be owned by another person.

What, not even if you donate yourself to him? - No! Why not? - because at the instant of such an attempt to donate oneself, to transfer ownership to another, the property item being transferred would be a self-owning person, which is impossible! If one is a self-owner the moment before such a transfer, one is still a self-owning person the instant afterwards, and therefore the alleged transfer would be a total fraud. This is a subtle point, but think: it has to be so!

So if not "somebody else" can it be said that every human is owned by some group of persons such as a company or a government - as in "I owe my soul to the Company store"? Again we must ask, how exactly was such ownership acquired; and there is simply no answer to that because, as above, it is impossible for even a willing would-be slave to surrender his own ownership of his own person.

Lastly, might it be that God owns us? - and again (until we address that issue in the Segment on "Religion") let's leave aside the question of whether God exists. Again the answer must be No, for again there is the insoluble problem of transfer, as above; and even if that were somehow solved, for God to acquire ownership rights we'd have to have had them in the first place in order for our donation of ourselves to be valid. Also, there's an extra problem: if it's argued that God owns everyone anyway by right of creation, then all humans are His slaves and the other human attributes of free will and moral choices and expressions of love are all cruel illusions; we would be mere puppets, no more. And that simply does not fit what we observe with our senses.

Notice, this line of logical reasoning is very tight; there is no way out. We have tried to deny the premise that "we humans are self-owners" and we've found we must grant its truth even while making the attempt. Therefore, that premise is an axiom. By our very nature as rational humans, each person owns himself; thus, every attempt to prevent us exercising that ownership is an irrational denial of our very nature. We shall encounter that many times in TOLFA.

So here's the sum of it:

Because you are a human being, you have an absolute right to own and operate your own life, any way you wish

- and of course, that's true for everybody else too. Isn't that awesome?

This Segment 1 is a foundation for all that follows in TOLFA so before moving on, please make sure you're comfortable with what we've seen here. Test yourself, by answering these questions:

Q1    Q2    Q3    Q4    Q5    Q6   

Study Plan

For further reading:
Take Me To Your Owner
Freedom on a Leash
Self-Ownership: The Foundation of Freedom
"The Philosophy of Liberty" by Ken Schoolland (an outstanding, 9-minute Flash presentation)