Wednesday, August 02, 2017

The Right of Necessity

One of the things I do for entertainment is listen to the New Books in Philosophy podcast.

The most recent episode interviews Alejandra Mancilla on her book The Right of Necessity, Moral Cosmopolitanism, and Global Poverty.

Basically, the paradigm example of the right of necessity involves a hiker, caught in the wilderness when an unexpected blizzard hits, finds shelter in a mountain cabin. She violates the right to property to break into the cabin. This is generally considered as being permissible.

However, if this is permissible, then is it not also permissible for people who are starving because of a famine to take food from those who have more food than they can use? Does it not justify those need medical care to survive taking what they need to acquire medical care? If not, why not?

Alejandra Mancilla argues that it is permissible. In fact, she argues that people have a right to the basic necessities - a Hohfeldian right that implies that others have a duty of non-interference.

I have used the cabin case as a counter-example to a strong thesis of Libertarian property rights. The libertarian would say that the hiker has to stay outside the cabin and freeze to death, refusing to violate the property rights of the owner.

However, if one says that the hiker has a moral permission to break into the cabin while the owners are absent, then why does the hiker not have a reason to break into the cabin if the owners are present? The right of necessity seems to imply that, if the owners are present, they have no right to tell the hiker, "Stay outside and freeze to death." Instead, they have an obligation to provide the hiker with aid.

In the same way that the cabin owners have an obligation to provide the hiker with a warm place to stay, the wealthy have an obligation to provide the sick and starving - at least those who can be helped with some small cost to the super rich - with food and medical care. This is not a supererogatory action. This is a duty.

In desirism terms, people generally have many and strong reasons to condemn and even to punish those who hoard wealth while others are suffering from a lack of food and medicine - the basics of survival. Helping the global poor is not a supererogatory action - it is a moral requirement, like keeping promises and repaying debts.

On documents page of my Desirism website, there is a paper on "A Foundation for Political Change" which applies these same ideas to the Lockean system of property rights. People seem to forget that Locke's theory of property rights require that those with properly leave "as good and as much" in common for others - enough to meet the basic necessities of life. If there is not enough property left in common for others, then those who have hoarded property have taken more than they have a right to take from the state of nature.

If there is not as much or as good left in common for others, then those who have hoarded an excess amount of properly need to provide those others with that which is at least as good as what they could have acquired from there being "as good and as much" left in nature for them.

We can turn this into an argument for global basic income, if we please - even if it is an income that is provided through an employer of last resort that a person can go to if they cannot find another job. This employer of last resort could put such people to work doing whatever they can do in service to the public good (if anything), but in all cases give them as good and as much as they need for the basics of survival.

Mancella expresses her arguments in terms of rights. However, it is generally easy to translate rights-talk into desire-talk.

One way of saying that A has a right to X is to say that people with good desires would act to ensure that A acquired X. A right to a fair trial means an obligation on the part of others to establish the institutions necessary to provide people with a fair trial. An act is obligatory if it an act that a person with good desires would do. Those who fail to do that which a person with good desires would do may legitimately be subject to condemnation or punishment.

The right to the essentials of life are like the right to a fair trial. We may tax people to provide it and to morally condemn those who seek to prevent people from getting a fair trial.

This book seems to cover a lot of material that I am interested in with respect to the practical application of desirism. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to read it. I have to focus on the material that I need to get my degree. It causes me to regret the shortness of life and the few hours in a day.

I will throw out the suggestion that, if somebody wants to read it and provide a critique from the point of view of desirism, I would consider posting the document on the desirism site.

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